Queensland Ballet: "A Classical Celebration" -
Lyric Theatre, QPAC, 31 October -
“A Classical Celebration” was conceived as a showcase for the classical repertoire of the Queensland Ballet, but it also can be seen as a marker of the company’s development under the direction of Francois Klaus. Undoubtedly, such a program would not have been feasible fifteen years ago, artistically, technically, or financially.
There were only three performances, alternating with performances of Opera Queensland’s Carmen. It was, therefore, a bonus to see the dancers on the larger Lyric Theatre stage (they usually perform at the Playhouse), and accompanied by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra.
“A Classical Celebration” was structurally a gala, although most items were longer than the usual divertissement; essentially a chocolate box assortment where there was usually something for everyone. The mix of works was therefore eclectic, taken from both Klaus’ interpretations of the classics and from the traditional repertoire.
In a luscious beginning to the program, Klaus’s white tie and tails interpretation of Strauss’s Kaiser (Emperor) Waltz, swept with elegance and style across the stage; clean batterie and elastic ballon from the men, who carry the women, graceful in long white gowns and gloves, across the space in a continuum of swirling, fluid lifts. An inconsistency of approach to the travelling waltz – demi-pointe or pointe for the working foot en avant – was but a small niggle.
The second offering from Act II of La Sylphide was a highlight of the evening. Principal dancers Meng Ningning and Hao Bin continue to show why they were hired; each performance confirms a refining of their dramatic ability. Meng was quite sublime in the role of the Sylph; not only has she the requisite delicacy of physique, she also captured the mercurial essence of the character.
Both dancers nailed the beaten steps and epaulement that characterise the Bournonville style, while Hao, as James, looked fabulous in a kilt; his fine, long legs now filling out with a sculpted muscularity that makes easy work of the tricky allegro.
The Romeo and Juliet balcony scene showed Rachael Walsh in what I think is possibly her best role. She was the very embodiment of young love, in turn rapturous and then astonished at such elation, her performance captivated from its first moments. Piran Scott was a wonderful match for Walsh, physically and in his interpretation of the young, headstrong Romeo.
A highlight of the second half was again Meng, who was transformative as the Dying Swan. Effortlessly fluid arms and glorious back helped her deliver a restrained, but tender poignancy to this, often over-acted, ‘party’ piece.
The other swan, Odette, was danced by Clare Morehen with Hao (Siegfried), in the Act II pas de deux section of Swan Lake. Morehen, who has the requisite exquisite, long classical line, gave a technically flawless interpretation. The corps however, was uneven at times and the cygnets, for most of the pas de quatre, set too far upstage. (Spacing seemed to be an issue on a couple of occasions.)
Another highlight was Le Corsaire as the traditional pas de trois. While Nathan Scicluna passed on his variation because of injury, Gemma Pearce was a vivacious Medora, and as the Slave, Yu Hui, in spite of a fumbled finish to his variation, nevertheless dazzled with his bravura technique.
The Café Scene from Klaus’ Swan Lake and excerpts from his Nutcracker also joined the celebration, with rich embellishment by elements of set and lighting design (Graham Maclean and Ben Hughes).
The finale was given over to the last scene from Klaus’ The Little Mermaid, a visually striking end to the poignant fairy tale (and the program), as the dancers, all in white, created sculpted abstracted formations against the green cyclorama.
-- DENISE RICHARDSON
Top photo: Meng Ningning La Sylphide. Photo Ken Sparrow