A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Queensland Ballet (2024)

12 April 2024. Lyric Theatre, Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane

This is not the first time I have seen and reviewed Liam Scarlett’s magnificent version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And there have also been reviews on this website from Jennifer Shennan given that the work was originally a joint production between Queensland Ballet and Royal New Zealand Ballet. Its world premiere was in New Zealand in Wellington in August 2015 and it was first seen in Australia in Brisbane in April 2016. For me it is a production that benefits from being seen over and over and with new casts. There always seem to be new aspects of the production that I haven’t noticed to the same extent on previous occasions. It is a credit to Scarlett that he embedded so many layers of meaning across the work.

The opening scene, in which fairies set the night time scene for us in a clearing in a forest, is always a treat to observe. The multi-level setting from Tracy Grant Lord, along with her glorious costumes, and the spectacular lighting from Kendall Smith, take us instantly into a different world where we feel unexpected moments may well occur. And they do! In overall approach, Scarlett has kept the Shakespearean storyline of Titania and Oberon and their disagreement over a Changeling child, and kept intact Oberon’s activities to take revenge on Titania. But the storyline has been altered somewhat to add what is perhaps a more humorous aspect to some scenes, or perhaps to modernise some elements.

But those elements aside, Lucy Green as Titania, and Joel Woellner as Oberon were outstanding, both in their characterisation of their roles and in their dancing. Woellner’s first solo, as he pondered how to take his revenge against Titania after she had swept him aside and taken charge of the Changeling, was filled with beautifully fluid movement and fast, perfectly executed turns that allowed Tracy Grant Lord’s Act I costume, with its flowing coat panels, to be an intrinsic part of the action.

There were some brilliant moments too from Green when, thanks to the actions of Puck (Kohei Iwamoto), she had fallen in love with Bottom (Rian Thompson). The physicality of Bottom’s name was played on in a masterly manner.

Titania and Bottom. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Queensland Ballet, 2024

But perhaps the most exceptional work from Woellner and Green came in their last pas de deux when the issues between Titania and Oberon had been resolved. It was truly a choreographic delight to see such beautiful partnering so attuned choreographically to the music (with the usual, very special input from conductor and arranger Nigel Gaynor and Camerata—Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra). Along with the incredible lifts and the pushing of technical boundaries, that pas de deux was gently calming and demonstrative of a resolution to the extent that tears came close to my eyes. It seemed to link up thematically with the charming nature of the fairies in the opening scene.

Titania and Oberon in the final pas de deux. . A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Queensland Ballet, 2024

Kohei Iwamoto has been playing Puck since the work’s Wellington premiere but never once does he seem to be replaying anything. His performance on this occasion was as fresh as ever and one can’t help but be stunned by his great elevation and awareness of moving through space, as well as the way he plays up to the audience at times while always remaining always aware of his place in the storyline.

The Rustics, with their very down-to-earth choreography and their absolute enjoyment of what they were doing, and the four Explorers (and lovers) all held their own. I was especially taken by a pas de deux performed by Hermia (Chiara Gonzalez) and Lysander (Alexander Idaszak), which, apart from being danced beautifully, was like the final pas de deux between Titania and Lysander—perfectly in harmony with the music.

There were just a couple of disappointments for me. One was that the Changeling, such a beautiful addition to the work, seemed not to have been coached to the same extent, or in the same manner, as on previous occasions. I was blown away the first time I saw this Dream with the way in which the Changeling was such an endearing character with such obvious human characteristics. This time he seemed a somewhat static addition, an afterthought even, and perhaps it was not so much to do with the dancer but with the interpretation that had been suggested he take on. A changeling, it seems, can have a number of characteristics, but the approach I saw that first time was such a delight and added such a recognisably human element to the story, which I’m sure Scarlett would have loved.

The other disappointment came with the final pas de deux between Oberon and Titania. In my first viewing of this production I loved the sexiness that was part of the reconciliation. I wrote, ‘…. there was a gorgeous moment in the pas de deux of reconciliation between Oberon and Titania where he ran his hand along her extended leg and she followed that movement with a little shake of the lower part of the leg. A frisson of excitement.’

But disappointments aside, Liam Scarlett’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a sensational work that never ceases to bring joy, surprise and admiration at every viewing. Queensland Ballet always shows its standout qualities.

Michelle Potter, 14 April 2024

Read my review of the first Australian performance at this link and listen below to Jennifer Shennan’s review of the world premiere, as recorded by Radio NZ.

Featured image (cropped): Three Fairies with the Changeling in the bottom right-hand corner. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Queensland Ballet, 2024

All photos: © David Kelly. Found on Queensland Ballet’s Facebook page and uploaded by Kelly.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Queensland Ballet (2023). A second look

28 October 2023 (matinee). Canberra Theatre

I was lucky enough to have the chance to see Liam Scarlett’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream a second time in Canberra. I especially wanted to see the cast that was not dancing on opening night. Mia Heathcote and Alexander Idaszak took on the roles of Titania and Oberon at the second performance I saw, although I hesitate to call them the ‘second cast’ as they were simply a different cast from the opening night.

Everything I previously wrote about the production itself stands for this second review—fabulous set and costumes, gorgeous lighting, great dancing by the Rustics and Fairies. And the rest. But there were some highlights for me from this cast and these highlights are the focal point for this second post.

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Mia Heathcote and Alexander Idaszak as Titania and Oberon.

I admired immensely not just the dancing by Mia Heathcote as Titania and Alexander Idaszak as Oberon, as exceptional as it was throughout, but also the connection that was set up between them. It ranged from the competitiveness they created in the early stages of the work as they argued about who ‘owned’ the changeling child, to love and attraction for each other in the final moments of the work as the issues were resolved. There were of course many other emotions in between the two mentioned but the connections, whatever emotion was in play, were strongly established and always very clear.

The final pas de deux between them was quite astonishing technically, especially in the performance of Scarlett’s surprising and beautiful lifts in which Titania’s body swirled constantly around Oberon’s. I was especially moved too by Idaszak’s lyrical use of every part of his body to enhance the choreography. He was just just magnificent.

Vito Bernasconi as Bottom

Vito Bernasconi was a fascinating Bottom. He made the change from Rustic to Bottom and back again very clear in a physical way and we were in no doubt about his confusion as he tried to understand what had happened to him when, under the spell cast on him by Puck, he engaged with Titania.

Neneka Yoshida and Rian Thompson as Hermia and Lysander

Neneka Yoshida and Rian Thompson made a charming couple as Hermia and Lysander. I was especially taken by Yoshida’s beautiful performing presence and her very easy style of moving and execution of Scarlett’s choreography. And she had a very attentive partner in Thompson. They were such a pleasure to watch.

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Liam Scarlett’s Midsummer Night’s Dream is a work that engages the audience from beginning to end. As happened on opening night, at the Saturday matinee there was not just applause but laughter and cheering at every opportunity.

Unfortunately there are no photos from the Canberra production that I can add to this post. The ones sent to media from the Canberra Theatre Centre were from a production in Cairns where the cast was not quite the same!

Michelle Potter, 30 October 2023

Featured image: Four of the eight Rustics in Queensland Ballet’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Photo: © David Kelly

A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Queensland Ballet (2023)

25 October 2023. Canberra Theatre

Unmissable!

After all the drama surrounding the life of choreographer Liam Scarlett, leading to his death by suicide in April 2021, what a thrill it was to see a restaging of his exceptional work, A Midsummer Night’s Dream—a joint production between Queensland Ballet and Royal New Zealand Ballet. It was first seen in New Zealand in 2015 and then in Brisbane in 2016. How lucky we are that Li Cunxin has seen fit to have it staged again by Queensland Ballet.

Scarlett’s work, somewhat rearranged from the play of the same name by William Shakespeare, juxtaposes two worlds—that of a fairy realm led by Oberon and Titania as King and Queen, who are squabbling over a changeling child; and a mortal world inhabited by rustics and a group of ‘explorers’ (so to speak) who enter a forest clearing inhabited by the fairies. The love lives of the ‘explorers’ become a little muddled when Oberon’s apprentice, Puck, receives instructions from Oberon to help with his squabble with Titania.

The forest setting is spectacularly designed by Tracy Lord Grant with strings of lights, stylised flora, a bridge among the tree tops, exotic tent-style dwellings for the fairy folk, and then some down-to-earth tents for the explorers. She is also responsible for the remarkable and beautifully coloured costumes. The work is lit with style by Kendall Smith.

Scarlett’s choreography is quite individualistic. It is beautifully musical with individual steps that are sometimes so small and fast that it is almost ‘blink and you miss them’. Then he invents lifts that are unlike anything we have seen before; he combines turns and jumps in unusual ways; he creates group movements that seem just perfect for the moment; and his choreography always matches the nature of the characters in the work. On this last mentioned issue, the group choreography for the rustics is a perfect example—it is, well, just rustically unsophisticated!

Victor Estévez as Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Queensland Ballet, 2016. Photo: © David Kelly

The dancers of Queensland Ballet danced brilliantly, as we have come to expect these days. Victor Estévez was a rather solemn Oberon but I loved seeing him lurking in the background (often on the treetop bridge) keeping an eye on what Puck was doing. Lucy Green handled the role of Titania with ease and the pas de deux between her and Estévez at the end of the work, when their differences had been resolved, was full of love and even a bit of sexiness. The four ‘explorers’, Mia Heathcote as Hermia, Alexander Idaszak as Lysander, Georgia Swan as Helena and Vito Bernasconi as Demetrius, engaged our attention throughout, while Rian Thompson as Bottom was memorable especially after the spell linking him and Titania had been broken and he struggled (choreographically) to understand what had happened.

While it is a hard task to single out individual performers in a show where the standard of performance is so high, Kohei Iwamato as Puck needs a special mention. Apart from the fact that he danced with spectacular leaps, great turns and detailed choreographic focus, the facial and physical expression that he used to give depth to his character was remarkable. I also found Georgia Swan truly engaging as the slightly crazy Helena. There was a lovely moment, after she and Demetrius had come together, when Demetrius took out a pair of glasses to show Helena that he too wore glasses.

This was my second look at Scarlett’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream after seeing it in Brisbane in 2016. As often happens with dance productions, the second viewing brought out things that I hadn’t noticed to such an extent the first time. Apart from the comic angle which hadn’t seemed so obvious before, I was entranced by the way every single character had an individuality, even when dancing as a group. The fairies and the rustics brought this out really well.

A truly unmissable show and I look forward to another viewing.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream continues at the Canberra Theatre until Saturday 28 October. If you miss it in Canberra, it is part of Queensland Ballet’s 2024 season and plays at Queensland Performing Arts Centre’s Playhouse from 12–27 April. See this link for more information about that 2024 season. It will also be restaged by Royal New Zealand Ballet 24 October–14 December beginning in Wellington. See this link.
Update: Here is a link to my second viewing in Canberra.

Michelle Potter, 26 October 2023

Postscript: At the post performance event following the opening night of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Canberra both Alex Budd, director of the Canberra Theatre Centre, and Li Cunxin mentioned in their speeches the move currently underway to build a new and enlarged theatre space for the Canberra Theatre Centre. Both spoke of the size of the current main stage and the difficulties associated with staging some performances on it. The size of the Canberra stage has been an issue for some time now and a new stage is a terrific development. But I have to say that Li Cunxin managed to fit Midsummer onto the current stage just brilliantly even though he admitted there had to be some adjustments. He said when asked that he never says ‘No I can’t do it.’ He always finds a way. Well that’s Li. He succeeds where others can’t be bothered trying.

Li also seized the opportunity to speak about another important issue—government funding for Queensland Ballet, which he says is minimal compared to funding for other major dance companies in Australia. This is a situation that needs to be changed. Under Li Cunxin and Mary Li the company has grown in size; has become more adventurous than ever; has built new and hugely responsive audiences; has brought major sponsors on board, has built a new home for Queensland Ballet (including a theatre), and now the company has a standard of performance that is hard to beat anywhere. That it has been unable to garner funding that recognises its place as a world class company is outrageous. We need to lobby those who are in a position to bring about change.

Featured image: Queensland Ballet in a moment from Liam Scarlett’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 2023. Photo: © Nathan Kelly

Strictly Gershwin (2023). Queensland Ballet and collaborators

28 September 2023. Lyric Theatre, Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane

Absolutely stunning!

From the brilliant performances by the dancers—in ballet, tap, ballroom and other forms—to the exciting and emotionally moving sound of the orchestra and singers (all onstage); from the lighting that made the whole look as if being performed within a second proscenium, to the background screen featuring assorted references to the Gershwin era, Strictly Gershwin was probably the most thrillingly presented and spectacularly performed show I have seen this year

Choreographed by Derek Deane in 2008 for English National Ballet and first presented by Queensland Ballet in 2016, Strictly Gershwin pays tribute to brothers George and Ira Gershwin and their contribution to the ‘big band’ era of the 1930s. In his program notes Deane remarks on the pleasure he experienced in being able to create the work: ‘I was free from the restrictions of the purely classical ballets and was able to experiment more choreographically with all the different dance styles in the production.’ And it is partly this diversity of dance styles that makes the production so fascinating.

Deane does, however, admit to including ‘two complete small ballets’ in the total show, one of which, Rhapsody in Blue, provided two highlights for me. Rhapsody in Blue opened part two of the production, ‘Gershwin in Hollywood’. Rhapsody was made for three couples and a corps de ballet and I was especially impressed with the women in the corps whose beautifully held upper bodies, tilted back slightly when they were in a kneeling position, and their ability to dance almost perfectly together, was outstanding. But the absolute standout dancer was the leading male dancer in Rhapsody, Patricio Revé. He partnered Neneka Yoshida and, whether in his partnering or in his solo work, he was absolutely committed to making every move full of meaning and emotion. The variety of his physical and facial expressions throughout was exceptional and it was hard to take my eyes off him.

Patricio Revé in Rhapsody in Blue, 2023. Photo: © David Kelly

But of course there were many other highlights. The two tap dancers, Kris Kerr and Bill Simpson, who also appeared with Queensland Ballet in 2016, were as amazing as ever and their performance with Rachael Walsh and ten other dancers in Oh, Lady be Good was another highlight.

Rachael Walsh (centre) and tap dancers in Oh, Lady be Good, 2023. Photo: © David Kelly

I have to mention, too, Lina Kim and Rian Thompson who danced so well together in Someone to Watch Over Me (as they also did in 2016). Their lyricism throughout and the beautiful lifts they performed, unexpectedly different from what we might be used to seeing, made watching them such a pleasure and, with the added singing of Nina Korbe standing at the side of the stage, it was a special collaborative section.

Rian Thompson and Lina Kim in Someone to Watch Over Me, 2023. © David Kelly

So many other special moments: Mia Heathcote throughout, Georgia Swan and Vito Bernasconi in Shall We Dance?, Yanela Piñera and Camilo Ramos (also from the 2016 cast) in the sexy It Ain’t Necessarily So, and so many others…

Yanela Piñera and Camilo Ramos in It Ain’t Necessarily So, 2023, © David Kelly

The music for Strictly Gershwin was played by Queensland Symphony Orchestra with a solo piano section in Rhapsody in Blue from guest artist Daniel Le. The costumes, every one of which was eye-catching to put it mildly, were by Roberta Guidi di Bagno and Howard Harrison’s original lighting was revived by Cameron Goerg and Ben Hughes. Then there was the conductor, Michael England, who often danced along himself (while still conducting). What a show! How lucky we were to be able to see it again!

Michelle Potter, 29 September 2023

Featured image: Lucy Green and Victor Estévez (centre) with Georgia Swan and Vito Bernasconi, and Laura Tosar and Alexander Idaszak in the opening scene from Strictly Ballroom, 2023. Photo: © David Kelly

60th Anniversary Gala. Queensland Ballet

5 March 2021. Playhouse, Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane

The opening night of Queensland Ballet’s 60th Anniversary Gala began with film footage examining, briefly, aspects of the contributions made to the company by the five artistic directors who have led the company to date: Charles Lisner, founding director (1959-1974); Harry Haythorne (1975-1978); Harold Collins (1978-1997); François Klaus (1998-2012); and current director Li Cunxin (2013-present).

The brief film was followed by a grand défilé choreographed by Paul Boyd and featuring dancers of Queensland Ballet and its associated school, Queensland Ballet Academy. Boyd’s choreography showcased the dancers skilfully and beautifully and the défilé began with a truly charming introduction. While carrying out small, on the spot promenade movements, two pairs of very young dancers, one pair positioned at each side of the downstage area, introduced the first of the older dancers. Each of those four young people showed remarkable stage presence and suggested that Queensland Ballet Academy has its focus not just on technique but on how to maximise one’s presence onstage.

Closing moments of the grand défilé. Queensland Ballet 2021. Photo: © David Kelly

The following program was a varied one and to my eyes, while all seven works had a reason for being part of the celebration, some stood out a little more than others.

Charles Lisner’s charming Chopin pas de deux, which opened the main section of the Gala, was well performed by Yanela Piñera and Joe Chapman. Piñera danced with her usual style and panache and the two dancers were able to connect with each other beautifully. Chapman carried off the quite difficult lifts with strength and aplomb. It was great to see him back in Australia after his stint dancing in Canada, although there were times when his ‘in between’ movements were less smooth than I would have wished. One step needs to lead to another without it being noticeably ‘in between’, and this didn’t always happen with Chapman.

Yanela Pieñra-and-Joe Chapman- n Chopin pas de deux. Queensland Ballet 2021. Photo:© David-Kelly
Yanela Piñera and Joe Chapman in Chopin pas de deux. Queensland Ballet 2021. Photo: © David Kelly

Mia Heathcote and Victor Estévez gave a dramatic rendition of François Klaus’ Cloudland pas de deux. Heathcote continues to impress as a dramatic dancer. Jacqui Carroll’s Tavern Scene from her 1982 work Carmina Burana was also filled with drama and passion. The three solos, danced by Vito Bernasconi, Liam Geck, and Rian Thompson, were spectacular in the power and passion that emanated from the dancing. My particular bouquet went to Bernasconi—he attacked the choreography like a man possessed.

The absolute standout item was the Don Quixote pas de deux danced brilliantly by Neneka Yoshida and Camilo Ramos. These two dancers are so suited to each other in height and in their similar, outstanding technical abilities. Yoshida’s technique was faultless and, in particular, her balances throughout and her fouettés in the coda were astonishing. Similarly Ramos stunned with his turns and his elevation and jumps. But there was something else happening. I have never seen Kitri and Basilio engage with each other the way Yoshida and Ramos did. The way they looked at each other, Yoshida’s glances to Ramos in particular, seemed to indicate a burgeoning relationship, a knowingness. It was very exciting to watch.

Neneka Yoshida and Camilo Ramos in Don Quixote pas de deux. Queensland Ballet 2021. Photo: © David Kelly

Other items on the program were a pas de deux from Harold Collins’ Lady of the Camellias, the finale to Act II of Klaus’ The Little Mermaid, and the full-length (and it was SO long) Études by Harald Lander. With the exception of Carmina Burana, which not surprisingly was danced to recorded music, the dancers performed to music played by Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra, Camerata, with Nigel Gaynor conducting. I continue to admire the way Gaynor conducts for dance. The music is always a part of the whole, never seeking to dominate.

The strength of the program not only revolved around some great dancing in particular works, but also on the words of Li Cunxin in an opening speech from the stage and in the section of the opening footage in which he appeared. Li was himself a brilliant dancer (I can still see him in certain roles), but he is also an unsurpassed speaker. He is committed, he is persuasive, he is caring about the art form of dance, his thanks to those involved have an honesty to them, and he is determined to keep moving ahead. Li builds on what has gone before but in his hands Queensland Ballet has moved ahead in leaps and bounds.

Michelle Potter, 6 March 2021

Featured image: Neneka Yoshida and Camilo Ramos in Don Quixote pas de deux. Queensland Ballet 2021. Photo: © David Kelly

Laura Hidalgo and Alexander Idaszak in Liam Scarlett’s ‘Dangerous Liaisons.’ Queensland Ballet, 2019. Photo David Kelly

Dangerous Liaisons. Queensland Ballet

22 March 2019. The Playhouse, Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane

It was a brave move by choreographer Liam Scarlett even to think of making a ballet out of the 18th century French novel Les liaisons dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. The storyline is complicated to say the least. It follows the tale of a wealthy widow, the Marquise de Merteuil, and her former lover, the Vicomte de Valmont, and their vindictive exploits centring on other, innocent players in their circle. It is filled with the less than honest means used by Valmont and Merteuil to move their tawdry plans forward. It takes a real expert to get across, via the wordless art form of dance, a narrative with so many characters involved in so many clandestine activities.

So how did Scarlett do it, and do it so sensationally?

Firstly, Scarlett has a knack for compressing detail without losing the basic elements of the narrative. So, while I am sure that second and third viewings would make the relations between characters clearer for the viewer, there was no difficulty following who was exploiting whom and in what way. The image below shows Cécile Volanges (Yanela Piñera), a young virgin engaged to be married to the Comte de Gercourt (Jack Lister), being seduced by the Vicomte de Valmont (Alexander Idaszak). Valmont’s prize for carrying out the seduction (one of the more insidious acts dreamt up by Merteuil and Valmont) will be a one night stand with Merteuil (Laura Hidalgo).


Lucy Green as Cécile and Alexander Idaszak as Valmont in Dangerous Liaisons. Queensland Ballet, 2019. Photo: © David Kelly

Secondly, Scarlett is truly a master choreographer who can, seemingly with ease, capture mood and character through movement. In the final scene, where Merteuil and Valmont engage in sexual activities, the partnering is spectacular, almost frightening, for the variety of positions in which the Marquise finds herself as she is thrown, swung and tossed through the air. It is vicious sex and leaves little to the imagination.

Laura Hidalgo and Alexander Idaszak in Liam Scarlett's 'Dangerous Liaisons'. Quensland Ballet, 2019. Photo David Kelly

Laura Hidalgo and Alexander Idaszak in Liam Scarlett’s Dangerous Liaisons. Queensland Ballet, 2019. Photo: © David Kelly

This is in stark contrast to the joyous waltzing in the scene where Cécile celebrates her social debut, or in the tender love scene between Cécile and her music teacher, Le Chevalier Raphael de Danceny (Rian Thompson), where the choreography, with its fluid, calm partnering, looked as innocent as the emerging love between Cécile and Danceny.

There were moments too when Scarlett’s wonderful ability to make abstract patterns with groups of dancers was very clear. They included a section early in the work when six dancers, servants in Merteuil household (?), had a few moments just to dance, threading their way between each other like a moving tapestry.

But, of all the dancers onstage on opening night, it was Kohei Iwamoto who stood out for me. He was Azolan, valet to Valmont, and his dancing was light, fluid, and technically exact. Iwamoto made every nuance of Scarlett’s choreography clearly visible, from small twirls of the wrist to larger beats and turns. And Scarlett had given him choreography that showed off his lightness, his elevation and his pleasure in dancing. It fitted well with his role as he rushed off with his bag of letters to deliver news of the next outrageous exploit of Valmont and Merteuil.

Kohei Iwamoto as Azolan in Liam Scarlett’s ‘Dangerous Liaisons‘. Queensland Ballet 2019. Photo David Kelly

Kohei Iwamoto as Azolan in Liam Scarlett’s Dangerous Liaisons. Queensland Ballet 2019. Photo: © David Kelly

Thirdly, Scarlett, with I’m sure the assistance of a company’s coaching staff, makes sure that every dancer performs with an understanding of his or her role. I particularly liked Laura Hidalgo as the Marquise de Merteuil. Apart from those incredible feats in her duets with Valmont, which she handled so beautifully, I loved the personality she projected with every move and every step—she was imperious, superior and beyond reproach (at least in her eyes).

And finally, Scarlett’s collaborators work beautifully with him to advance the narrative. Costumes by Tracy Grant Lord were sumptuous and elegant, befitting the aristocratic strata of French society to which the characters belonged. With sexual activities a persistent feature throughout, we often saw decorative and revealing undergarments with colour indicating character, virginal white for Cécile, red and black for Merteuil. The set design, again by Tracy Grant Lord, was for the most part a simple arrangement of panels that moved, sometimes revolving, to create new spaces. Lighting by Kendall Smith gave colour to the panels as well as setting a mood.

But it was the music that added an exceptional collaborative element to Dangerous Liaisons. Scarlett had worked extensively with arranger Martin Yates and together they had gathered together (Yates refers to their actions as ‘plundering’) a variety of music by Camille Saint-Saens to create a new score. Each character had his or her own musical theme, which perhaps is another reason why the ballet held together so well. And, with a piano teacher as one of the main characters, it was no surprise that piano music featured strongly. The music was played live by Queensland’s Camerata Chamber Orchestra conducted by Nigel Gaynor with piano soloist Roger Longjie Cui.

The dancers of Queensland Ballet looked absolutely stunning throughout Dangerous Liaisons. The performance indicated quite clearly that the company is so much more than a State ballet company. QB is a national treasure, of which director Li Cunxin has every right to be proud

Michelle Potter, 24 March 2019

Featured image: Laura Hidalgo and Alexander Idaszak in Liam Scarlett’s Dangerous Liaisons. Queensland Ballet, 2019. Photo: © David Kelly

Laura Hidalgo and Alexander Idaszak in Liam Scarlett’s ‘Dangerous Liaisons.’ Queensland Ballet, 2019. Photo David Kelly


Liz Lea in a study for a forthcoming show, 'RED'. Photo: © Nino Tamburri

Dance diary. November 2016

  • Canberra Critics’ Circle Awards: Dance 2016

The Canberra Critics’ Circle, a group of Canberra-based, practising critics from across art forms, presented its annual awards in November. Two awards were given in the dance area.

Liz Lea: For her innovative promotion of dance in the ACT exemplified by her co-ordination and presentation of “Great Sport!” at the National Museum of Australia, which spectacularly showcased the work of The Gold Company, Dance for Parkinson’s, Canberra Dance Theatre, and of a number of local and interstate choreographers, in a memorable and remarkable presentation.

Alison Plevey: For her tireless and consistent efforts as a dancer, choreographer and facilitator towards advancing professional contemporary dance in the A.C.T through her performances, collaborations, and programs, culminating in the establishment of her dance company, Australian Dance Party.

Alison Plevey (left) in 'Strings Attached', Australian Dance Party 2016.
Alison Plevey (left) in Strings Attached, the inaugural show from Australian Dance Party, 2016. Photo: © Lorna Sim

As indicated in the citations, both Plevey and Lea have contributed to the growth of a renewed interest in dance in Canberra. A preview of Plevey’s forthcoming show, Nervous, is below under ‘Press for November 2016’. My review of Great Sport!, facilitated, directed, and partly choreographed by Lea is at this link.

  • The Nutcracker: Queensland Ballet

A second viewing of Queensland Ballet’s Nutcracker, with a change of cast, had some new highlights. Neneka Yoshida was a gorgeous Clara. She was beautifully animated and involved throughout and there were some charming asides from her with other characters during those moments when she wasn’t the centre of attention. Mia Heathcote took on the role of Grandmother, a role that couldn’t be further from her opening night role as Clara. But she created a very believable character and, as we have come to expect, never wavered from her characterisation. Tim Neff was a totally outrageous Mother Ginger and Lina Kim and Rian Thompson gave us a thrilling performance as the leading couple in the Waltz of the Flowers.

Another exceptional performance from Queensland Ballet.

  • Ella. A film by Douglas Watkins

Ella, which premiered earlier in 2016 at the Melbourne International Film Festival, traces the journey of Ella Havelka from a childhood spent dancing in Dubbo, New South Wales, to her current position as a corps be ballet member of the Australian Ballet. My strongest recollection of Havelka with the Australian Ballet is her dancing with Rohan Furnell as the leading Hungarian couple in Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake when I called their performance ‘very feisty’.

Scene from the film 'Ella'
Scene from the film Ella, 2016

I found the film largely unchallenging, however, and footage of Havelka dancing with Bangarra Dance Theatre was far more exciting to watch than that showing her with the Australian Ballet. Not only that, the commentary from Stephen Page on the nature of Bangarra, and Havelka’s role as an Indigenous Australian in that company, was far more pertinent and gutsy than the rather non-committal remarks from interviewees from the Australian Ballet. An opportunity missed from several points of view?

  • Royal New Zealand Ballet

Royal New Zealand Ballet is seeking a new artistic director to replace Francesco Ventriglia who will leave his position in mid-2017. Ventriglia will depart ‘to pursue international opportunities.’ Before he departs New Zealand he will take on the new role of guest choreographer to stage his own production of Romeo and Juliet in August. His planned repertoire for 2017 includes works by Roland Petit and Alexander Ekman.

  • Late news: Ruth Osborne

Ruth Osborne, artistic director of QL2 Dance in Canberra, has been awarded a Churchill Fellowship to pursue her interest in developing dance projects for young people. More in a future post.

  • Press for November 2016

‘Wonderful version of Christmas classic.’ Review of The Nutcracker from Queensland Ballet. The Canberra Times, 25 November 2016, p. 37.  Online version.

‘Under the microscope.’ Preview of Nervous from Australian Dance Party. The Canberra TimesPanorama, 26 November 2016, p. 15. Online version.

Michelle Potter, 30 November 2016

Featured image: Liz Lea in a study for a forthcoming show, RED. Photo: © Nino Tamburri, 2016

Liz Lea in a study for a forthcoming show, 'RED'.

The Nutcracker. Queensland Ballet

23 November 2016, Canberra Theatre Centre

Below is an expanded version of my Canberra Times review of Queensland Ballet’s Nutcracker.

Across the world The Nutcracker is the quintessential Christmas experience. Children grow up knowing the story of Clara, and the Nutcracker Prince who takes her on a journey through a snowy forest to the Kingdom of Sweets. Those children (and their parents) look forward throughout the year to its annual return. It used to be a wonderful Christmas experience enjoyed each year by Australian dance audiences too, but that was long ago. Now we have occasional productions but none of the annual excitement. Recently, however, under the energetic and committed direction of artistic director, Li Cunxin, Queensland Ballet has begun to bring back the annual tradition of a Nutcracker Christmas. This year Canberra has been included as part of Queensland Ballet’s season. How lucky we are.

Every Nutcracker has its own character and every production has slight differences in how the story unfolds. Queensland Ballet’s production is by American-based choreographer Ben Stevenson, who currently directs Texas Ballet Theater in Fort Worth. It was Stevenson who, while directing Houston Ballet from 1976–2003, gave Li the chance to dance in the West when, while visiting Beijing, he offered Li a scholarship to appear in Houston. Since then Li has gone on from a major career as a dancer, including as a principal with the Australian Ballet, to his present position with Queensland Ballet.

Stevenson’s Nutcracker has a warm and homely atmosphere to its opening scenes. Children cross the stage in excitement and anticipation. Some drag their parents behind them. Some ride a sled. Some older people slip on the icy surface. They enter a house, complete with sparkling Christmas tree, where young and old mingle, laugh, eat and drink, dance, play (and have the odd argument), and exchange presents. Clara, youthfully and prettily danced by Mia Heathcote, is given a nutcracker doll by a mysterious visitor, Dr Drosselmeyer (Shane Wuerthner), and the story revolves around this toy. There is a strong comic element to the party scene, and there are more elderly characters than is often the case. Thomas Boyd’s set has a charmingly unpretentious and hospitable quality to it. It all makes for a genial gathering.

Mia Heathcote as Clara in 'The Nutcracker', Queensland Ballet, 2016. Photo: © David James McCarthy
Mia Heathcote as Clara in The Nutcracker, Queensland Ballet, 2016. Photo: © David James McCarthy

When the party is over and the guests have departed Clara is woken from her sleep by giant mice who attack her. A fight ensues and Clara kills the King Rat (Rian Thompson) with her shoe before her nutcracker toy is transformed into the Prince (Alexander Idaszak) and the journey to the Kingdom of Sweets begins. When she arrives, Clara is entertained by the inhabitants of the Kingdom, from the pastry cooks to the Sugar Plum Fairy (Yanela Piñera). Finally we find Clara and her toy nutcracker back at home. And we wonder if we, and Clara, have been dreaming?

Queensland Ballet tells the story clearly and smartly and the company dances this Nutcracker to perfection. The corps de ballet shone at every moment whether as snowflakes, life-sized toy soldiers, flowers, or other characters. The snowflakes were dazzling and the Snow Queen (Laura Hidalgo) danced an exceptional pas de deux with the Prince. Hidalgo had such a lyrical quality to her movement, and a beautifully fluid upper body. Every single movement was impressively defined, so much so that she looked as though she was dancing in slow motion. She was attentively partnered by Idaszak, who danced strongly but somehow gently and softly as well. But the flowers in the second act Waltz of the Flowers just amazed me with a series of pretty much perfect double pirouettes, moving across the stage in twos and performing in canon. They were led beautifully by Teri Crilly and Camilo Ramos. And everyone looked as though they loved dancing—no ‘pasted on’ smiles here. Wonderful to see.

Of the other divertissements in the Kingdom of Sweets it was quite special to see Mother Ginger (Liam Geck). This variation rarely appears in other productions but is a delightful sequence in which several children appear from beneath the huge, hooped skirt of a very tall, motherly (if somewhat outrageous) figure. The Mirlitons remained as a pas de trois but danced, instead of the usual three ladies, by two ladies and a man (Tara Schaufuss, Neneka Yoshida and Zhi Fang). The Chinese Dance (D’Arcy Brazier and Zuquan Kou) had an unusual martial arts twist; Spanish was a pas de six with the dancers dressed (by Desmond Heeley) in stunning red and black outfits; and the Russian was a solo for Vito Bernasconi. The audience favourite, however, was the Arabian Dance with Lina Kim and Joel Woellner. Their sinuous pas de deux was highlighted by a fabulous lift with Kim upside down in splits being tilted backwards while in the air.

And the choreographic highlight, the pas de deux and variations of the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Prince, was worth waiting for. I have admired Yanela Piñera in other recent Queensland Ballet productions and, as the Sugar Plum Fairy, she again showed her clean, strong technique. This time I especially admired her lovely little twists of the neck and a beautifully executed double turn in attitude that was done as a supported finger turn. She was partnered by Idaszak as the Prince, who once again was a most attentive partner.

There were so many charming, memorable moments, but in the end this evening stood out as a heart-warming performance of a much-loved ballet by a company that in recent years has gone from strength to strength. Despite funding issues, mentioned by Li Cunxin in his post-performance speech, Queensland Ballet stands tall and proud as a company that cares about the art form and its future. May they return many times to Canberra. We are ready and waiting.

Disclaimer: I had two family members in the children’s cast of Queensland Ballet’s Nutcracker.

Michelle Potter, 25 November 2016

Featured image: Yanela Piñera and Alexander Idaszak as the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Prince in The Nutcracker, Queensland Ballet, 2016. Photo: © David James McCarthy

Yanela Pinera and Alexander Idaszak as the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Prince in 'The Nutcracker', Queensland Ballet, 2016. Photo: © David James McCarthy

On a personal note: I was (rightly) required by The Canberra Times to include a disclaimer to my review as I had two grandsons performing in the children’s cast. But I have to say that I am thrilled that these two young boys will grow up knowing the excitement of The Nutcracker as a Christmas ballet, and knowing the full ballet rather than a version downsized for children!

The online Canberra Times review is at this link.

Strictly Gershwin. Queensland Ballet (2016)

27 May 2016, Lyric Theatre, Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane

Derek Deane made his Strictly Gershwin for English National Ballet in 2008 when it was shown in London’s cavernous Royal Albert Hall. I have to admit I wondered how it would look on Queensland Ballet in the rather more confined space of Brisbane’s Lyric Theatre. Well I need not have worried. It looked spectacular!

Strictly Gershwin is a show in the true sense of the word—an impressive spectacle. It highlights all kinds of dance from ballet to tap to the charleston. It has an onstage jazz orchestra, largely consisting of musicians from Queensland Symphony Orchestra conducted by a very charismatic Gareth Valentine, and musically it is enhanced by the presence of some outstanding vocalists. It has eye-catching, Hollywood-style lighting and razzle dazzle costumes. And Queensland Ballet is augmented by special guest dancers, a corps of tap dancers and a larger corps of pre-professional dancers. It was some feat to bring this show together. The stage looked a little crowded only occasionally, and a few opening night problems and fumbles will, I am sure, be ironed out in later performances. The audience reaction was loud and appreciative throughout, especially for lead tappers, Kris Kerr and Bill Simpson, with a standing ovation for all at the end.

As the name implies, the show celebrated the music and lyrics of George and Ira Gershwin, from works made for film and musicals to concert hall compositions. The fun begins with the overture in which Valentine displays his dancing skills in addition to his skills with the baton. But the big number from the first half of the program for me was ‘Shall we dance?’ which, with its glamorous black, white and sparkling silver costumes, and its images of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers that are flashed onto an upstage screen, reminded us of those great Hollywood movies of the 1930s. Led by Clare Morehen and Christian Tátchev, it was distinguished by a wonderful range of choreography from quite formal ballroom-style partnering and poses to fast jitterbug moves. What a versatile company of dancers we saw.

In the second half the standout number for me was another big one, ‘Oh, lady be good’, featuring tappers Kerr and Simpson along with Rachael Walsh making a return appearance with Queensland Ballet. They were joined by a guest corps of tap dancers and each and every dancer shone, sparkled and smiled from beginning to end. Such a pleasure to watch.

Overall, my pick of the dancers on this occasion was Lina Kim, beautifully fluid and partnered strongly by Rian Thompson in ‘Someone to watch over me’. She appeared at other times in less featured roles throughout the evening and showed off some fabulous footwork and dancing that carried me away with pleasure as I watched her joyous dancing. I was also swept away by the tango-esque choreography of ‘It ain’t necessarily so’ danced by Yanela Piñera and Camilo Ramos, both perfectly cast to bring a slinky sexuality to the choreography. Then there was Mia Heathcote and Shane Wuerthner in an apache-style duet to music from ‘An American in Paris’. Gorgeous choreography here too especially those subtle changes to the placement of the legs as Heathcote was lifted, turned, lowered and twisted by Wuerthner.

Perhaps the one section that seemed a little messy was the Paris scene. It showed off such a range of characters—people riding bikes, nuns, circus people, characters on roller skates, the full gamut of Parisian characters—that the stage seemed overpopulated to me. Perhaps this was where the Albert Hall was needed? But Strictly Gershwin is a fabulous show, filled with great music and dancing, and an event to be enjoyed rather than analysed. Definitely a major coup for Queensland Ballet.

Michelle Potter, 29 May 2016

Featured image: Promotional image for Strictly Gershwin. Queensland Ballet, 2016