Coppélia. Queensland Ballet

22 June 2024 (matinee). The Playhouse, Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane

I didn’t see Greg Horsman’s version of Coppélia, a joint production between Queensland Ballet and West Australian Ballet, when it was first performed back in 2014. But, having admired his reimagining of La Bayadère (despite efforts by some to remove it, and other productions of Bayadère, from the world-wide repertoire), I was looking forward to Queensland Ballet’s presentation of Horsman’s Coppélia. I was not disappointed.

Horsman has kept enough of the original storyline of Coppélia so that the work is recognisable to those of us who have been brought up on the traditional version. Dr Coppélius is bent on bringing a doll to life while the people of the town try to discover what is happening inside his house. And there is the usual love interest wending its way through the story. But Horsman has set this Coppélia in South Australia, in the small town of Hahndorf, which was the home in the early 1800s of German settlers.

But before Act I begins, with its presentation of the activities of the Hahndorf townsfolk, we are given some background in an outstanding prelude. It introduces us to Dr Coppélius and his daughter Coppélia as they prepare to set out on a journey to settle in Australia. The prelude contains a brief moment on stage and then some film (stills and footage) as the boat traverses the oceans. As the voyage continues we see Coppélia’s death and her burial at sea.

The scene then moves to Hahndorf and follows the story largely as we know it, with some exceptions and additions. A notable addition is a brief, moving moment when we see Dr Coppélius (D’Arcy Brazier) making the decision to try to return Coppélia to life. Then there are changes to how the music is used choreographically. The Mazurka from Act I becomes a celebration of a recent win by Hahndorf’s football team. Later, parts of the music for the Czardas in Act I become an accompaniment to a German-style dance with lots of slapping of the knees.

Artists of Queensland Ballet in Act I of Coppélia. Queensland Ballet, 2024. Photo: © David Kelly .

Act II keeps closely to the traditional production as Swanilda (Laura Tosar) and her friends discover the studio of Dr Coppélius, and Franz (Edison Manuel) climbs through a window in Dr Coppélius’ house to make his own discoveries. Act II ends as we might expect with Swanilda and Franz escaping while Dr Coppélius is left holding the doll he was hoping would be his daughter brought to life.

Artists of Queensland Ballet in Act III of Coppélia. Queensland Ballet, 2024. Photo: © David Kelly .

Act III adds some developments to the original story, including the appearance of an angry Dr Coppélius, who usually does not appear in this last Act, carrying his lifeless doll. But after a scuffle or two peace is reached between him and the townsfolk. Swanilda and Franz make plans for the future and the work ends happily.

I was at the second last performance of this Coppélia and, as often happens in such situations. it is not always principal artists who take on leading roles. In particular, I enjoyed immensely seeing company artist Edison Manuel dance Franz. He was engaging in his characterisation and displayed a nicely placed and developed technique. He is someone to watch over the coming years.

There was so much to like in Horsman’s Coppélia. It was appealing in design with lighting by Jon Buswell, set design by Hugh Colman, and costumes by Noelene Hill. But what I especially loved was the way Dr Coppélius had been transformed. Gone was the bumbling, eccentric pantomime-style character that we so often see in traditional productions. Horsman’s Dr Coppélius was a man whose life had been rocked by the death of his daughter and we could see in his every move that he was not the eccentric person of the traditional ballet but someone whose emotions are like our own.

Some of the best choreographers in Australia and overseas have reimagined old stories and made them more relevant in some way. Greg Horsman has joined them and created a thoroughly enjoyable ballet with a coherent, Australianised storyline.

Michelle Potter, 26 June 2024

Featured image: Dr Coppélius and the doll he hoped he could bring to life. Queensland Ballet, 2024. Photo: © David Kelly

Bespoke, 2022. Queensland Ballet

30 July 2022. Talbot Theatre, Thomas Dixon Centre, Brisbane

Bespoke for 2022 comprised Tethered by Petros Treklis, Biography by Stephanie Lake and A Rhapsody in Time by Greg Horsman. All three had lighting by Cameron Goerg and costumes by Zoe Griffiths. Choreographically it was a highly diverse program and continues Queensland Ballet’s annual, and admirable, program of promoting new choreography.

Treklis’ work, danced to a score by James Brown, left me somewhat cold I have to say. Treklis says in program notes that his work explores ‘the idea of the unknown and our other selves’. For me it focused on darkness with a bit of light thrown in for good measure. The cast of fifteen was mostly dressed in dark grey garb, a kind of boiler suit but with (I think) some kind of monster-style head covering—it was hard to see in the darkness just exactly what comprised the costume. Those dressed this way were programmed as Shadows. Then there were two figures, a Man and a Woman, who at times interacted with the main group of Shadows. They were dressed in costumes that were light coloured, and much less all-encompassing. Choreographically the Shadows had mostly group poses and movements to perform whereas the Man and the Woman had more freedom. But I’m not sure what was the outcome of the relationship between the light and the dark. The work was danced strongly by Queensland Ballet’s Jette Parker Young Artists who deserve credit for making Tethered watchable.

Scene from Tethered, Queensland Ballet, 2022. Photo: © David Kelly

Stephanie Lake’s Biography sat at the other end of the spectrum really. Danced to a mixture of music from J. S. Bach to Robin Fox, it was lighter and brighter, sometimes even amusing. Lake describes it as ‘the subterranean forces that shape out lives’ and choreographically the work provided us with some fascinating structures—some were strongly and geometrically grouped, others less so. The dancers showed off the different ‘forces’ with more than a spark of individuality. I have to say though that it reminded me rather too much of Alexander Ekman’s work. Cacti comes immediately to mind. But still it was entertaining in an especially quirky way..

Scene from Biography, Queensland Ballet, 2022. Photo: © David Kelly

The absolute standout work was the closing item, Greg Horsman’s A Rhapsody in Motion danced to Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Opus 43. It began with a reference (perhaps) to Harald Landers’ Etudes with the dancers performing various movements at the barre—or a series of barres (they were quite short in length) spread out across the stage. But it was just a passing reference as Horsman used the barres as a prop for the dancers who moved them, slid under them and used them in a variety of ways. Once the barres were taken away, leaving an empty performing space, we saw some beautifully complex, vibrant and diversely structured classical choreography, stunningly performed (as ever) by the artists of Queensland Ballet.

Dancers of Queensland Ballet in the opening scene from A Rhapsody in Motion. Queensland Ballet, 2022. Photo: ©David Kelly

While it is hard to single out any one dancer, I was completely bowled over by the exceptional performance at the matinee I attended from Laura Tosar, who was recently promoted to soloist and was partnered on this occasion by David Power. Tosar has such a beautifully fluid body and technically could scarcely be faulted. But what was just brilliant was the way she was able to express her pleasure at performing. Yes, there was a smile on her face, but it was not a forced smile, just an expression of emotion and pleasure at being onstage, and that expression coursed through her whole body. I am so looking forward to seeing her perform again.

Laura Tosar and Patricio Reve in a pas de deux from A Rhapsody in Motion. Queensland Ballet, 2022. Photo: ©David Kelly

This triple bill was a mixed bag and it is always a thrill to watch Queensland Ballet take on the challenges that Bespoke offers. A program of works from Treklis, Lake and Horsman provides a panoply of challenges

Michelle Potter, 7 August 2022

Featured image: Dancers of Queensland Ballet in Greg Horsman’s A Rhapsody in Motion, Queensland Ballet 2022. Photo: © David Kelly

Cy-gents. Queensland Ballet, 2020

60 dancers: 60 stories. Queensland Ballet. Week 4

Art must prevail

Very belatedly, here are my thoughts on the fourth and final week of Queensland Ballet’s month of fundraising.

What a treat was the hilarious Cy-gents. And what a wonderful name! The Dance of the Little Swans from Swan Lake Act II has long been used, most often by men dressed in tutus and showing hairy legs, as a caricature of ballet. But QB’s Cy-gents was something else. Dressed in male practice attire, with the addition of a couple of baseball caps worn backwards (sideways perhaps is better), Liam Geck, Ari Thompson, Luke Dimattina and Kohei Iwamato danced to an arrangement by Janette Mulligan of the Petipa choreography for those Little Swans.

Each dancer performed in a different setting but editing of the four individual performances meant that sometimes we saw different arrangements on screen—each of the four dancing separately across the screen, four shots of one dancer, or some variation of that. Choreographically it was close enough to what we know and love but far enough away that it looked (mostly) as if it were made for male dancers. And the ending! I’ve never seen a Swan Lake cygnet fall into the ‘lake’ before. A very special three minutes or so.

I was taken too by Laura Tosar’s Nostalgia, which she said was danced in ‘the living room of her youth’. What an amazing house that was. It had to have been a set-up? But whatever, it was fascinating.

Laura Tosar in Nostalgia. Queensland Ballet, 2020

Queensland Ballet’s initiative in setting up this project, and the input from the dancers, music team and other support staff throughout June was absolutely brilliant. I only managed to mention around one sixth of what was on offer, but every video clip had a special quality. The company deserves every dollar it attracted.

Michelle Potter, 13 July 2020

Featured image: Cy-gents. Queensland Ballet, 2020