Playhouse, Queensland Performing Arts Centre
Reviewed January 26
Ballet International Gala, promoted widely by its acronym, BIG, has been 18 months in the making. Originally scheduled for mid-2021 at the South Bank Piazza, mitigating circumstances and the opportunity of space at QPAC pushed its season back six months to January.
Creating the right balance of artists and works for any gala can be tricky – doubly so when you’re talking "international" in the middle of a raging pandemic. Sadly, not all the BIG plans came to fruition – most disappointingly, the absence of the Royal Ballet’s Francesca Hayward and Cesar Corrales. Tapper Bill Simpson was also not in the final line-up. Nevertheless, BIG still delivered on the international component of the evening. I just wished there had been more of it.
Astana Opera principal artists Shugyla Adepkhan and Bakhtiyar Adamzhan each performed a solo before the central pas de deux from Yuri Grigorovich’s Spartacus. Adamzhan has the solid muscularity to make his Spartacus convincing, with an impassioned interpretation, soaring elevation and effortless one-handed presage lifts. The exquisitely long-legged Adepkhan was also mesmerising – finely boned and elegant, she showed the breadth of movement and heightened extension that we expect of the Russian style.
Alexander Campbell (Principal Artist, Royal Ballet) replaced Cesar Corrales in the Act 2 pas de deux from Swan Lake, partnering Skylar Brandt (Principal Artist, American Ballet Theatre). A few sticky moments with transitions and timing showed they weren’t yet used to dancing together. Otherwise it was a mesmeric interpretation.
It was a pity we didn’t see more of Campbell, apart from a splash of turns in the finale; however, Brandt later showed her mettle in Le Corsaire with fellow ABT Principal Artist, Aran Bell. Her sharp, high retires, impeccable line and dazzling footwork were the perfect foil to Bell’s soaring elevation and immaculately placed turns. Together, in a firecracker coda, they displayed the pizzazz expected of this showstopper, bringing the house to its feet.
Local guests supplemented the international contingent, with Dani Gibson and former Australian Ballet Principal Artist Daniel Gaudiello in the Giselle Act 2 pas de deux. Gibson, who was briefly with Paris Opera Ballet before the pandemic, had been ably coached by Gaudiello in the role.
Queensland Ballet (QB) First Soloist Mia Heathcote and Principal Artist Victor Estévez opened the second half of the program with the balcony pas de deux from Romeo and Juliet. They both captured the essence of impassioned young love in Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s glorious sweeping choreography.
QB’s Neneka Yoshida (Principal Artist) and Patricio Revé (First Artist) followed in La Bayadère. The nuggety Revé has wonderful line and high elevation, which paired well with the icy brilliance of Yoshida’s formidable technique. Her series of whipped piqué turns were particularly dazzling.
Paintings by the artist Garry Dolan, evoking the mood of each pas de deux, were projected onto the cyc, creating an ambience on an otherwise bare stage. There were several technical issues with lighting and curtain cues which I hope were resolved in subsequent performances.
The producer, Queensport Arts, wanted its gala to broaden ballet’s audience base, ambitiously bookending the program of ballet pas de deux with live music (the 3-piece rock band Selfish Sons and a brass quintet), and a dash of contemporary dance. A terrific concept but somewhat undercooked.
A reflective, contemporary styled solo, by American Juliet Doherty (star of the forthcoming feature film, Red Shoes – The Next Step), at the top of the finale, sat awkwardly in tone after the brilliance of Le Corsaire. Dancer (and producer of BIG) Joel Burke performed a solo and duet with Doherty, which seemed unnecessary, before the whole cast arrived on stage in a grand, rock concert styled, finale.
Running at just under two hours including interval, BIG underdelivered somewhat, especially given the premium ticket prices. The international artists didn’t disappoint, but another couple of works from them in the mix would have been welcome.
On opening night, many in the audience were new to ballet, and given the almost sell-out season, perhaps BIG achieved its goal of broadening ballet’s audience base. For all the ballet companies out there, besieged by Covid, I hope so. Only time will tell.
– DENISE RICHARDSON
All photos above by Craig Ratcliffe.