Playhouse, Qld Performing Arts Centre
Reviewed March 5
Almost a year to the day later than originally planned, Queensland Ballet (QB) finally launched its 60th Anniversary Gala season with an opening night that truly sparkled. Although there were now no international guest artists, they weren’t missed. This was quite rightly a local affair that celebrated, with joy and much pride, Queensland artists, their achievements past and present, and the indomitable spirit that has seen QB not only survive but thrive.
The Gala was a beautifully curated evening that began with a spectacular Grand Défilé for all the company dancers as well as students from the QB Academy. Welcoming speeches, and a filmic potted history of the company, with contributions by former dancers (including founder Charles Lisner’s wife Valerie Lisner), followed, setting the tone of reflection and celebration. It was clear we were in for a treat.
The program acknowledged past artistic directors and choreographers in a selection of pas de deux and ensemble pieces, before concluding with the first performance for the company of Harold Lander’s Études.
The program opened with Lisner’s swooning pas de deux to the Larghetto from Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.2, where Yanela Piñera and Joseph Chapman embodied the romantic flavour of the music in this languid duet of seamless, soaring lifts.
Mia Heathcote and Victor Estévez gave an exquisite interpretation of the pas de deux from Francois Klaus’s seminal work, Cloudland, exuding the romantic pathos of a love lost. We were likewise reminded of Harold Collins’s mastery of the form in his pas de deux from Act 2 of Lady of the Camelias. Georgia Swan, a fine dramatic dancer, with Joel Woellner and Sophie Zoricic as the Nurse, together conveyed the anguish of Marguerite’s final moments.
Fireworks were provided by Neneka Yoshida and Camilo Ramos, perfectly matched in a beautifully elegant Wedding Pas de Deux from Don Quixote. Yoshida positively sizzled, with killer balances that drew gasps of admiration. In a fabulous coda, she tossed off 32 fouettés with nonchalance, while Ramos landed tours and turns with immaculate precision. Not surprisingly, Yoshida was promoted to Principal Artist the following evening. She has been a dancer to watch for some time.
The two small ensemble pieces in the mix were thematically and stylistically very different. The Tavern Scene from choreographer Jacqui Carroll’s 1982 work Carmina Burana oozed masculinity. On a red, smoke-filled stage, to a recording of Carl Orff’s riveting score, the raw physicality of the eight male dancers, bare-chested in various combinations of torn black tights, was compelling. Soloists Vito Bernasconi, Liam Geck and Rian Thompson were the athletic lynchpins in this mix of brawling wayfarers.
The retrospective acknowledgements concluded with the meditative final scene from Klaus’s The Little Mermaid. It was lovely to see this again. Visually it is stunning – the dancers in white, set against the washed blue of the back cloth. The stylistic references to early religious iconography and the beautiful grouping of dancers, all set to Bach’s Air in G, made this the perfect precursor to the evening’s final offering.
Harold Lander’s Études, conceived in 1948 as a tribute to classical ballet training, will test the mettle of any company. Deceptively simple looking in its construction and classic black and white colour palette, the ballet follows the progression of company class from a simple grand plie to grand allegro, all imbued with the Bournonville style, and including in the mix a homage to 19th century Romanticism.
A strong corps is vital to the ballet’s success, and in this performance these dancers were faultless, drawing applause for the military precision of their barre work. As the tempo increases, with petit allegro then turns and grand allegro, the simple repetition of steps performed in various group and solo combinations escalates the challenge and the excitement.
Isabella Swietlicki, as the Sylph, captured the romantic style beautifully, while Piñera, Bernasconi, Estévez and Revé all shone in the principal roles. Études, however, is a vehicle to showcase the whole company, and this it did. With panache, spirit and terrific technical skill, the dancers of Queensland Ballet positively dazzled.
Albeit a year later than intended, this was still a night to remember!
– DENISE RICHARDSON