Tapping into an audience favourite keeps even the dancers on their toes

It’s the work most requested by Queensland Ballet fans, so it’s time to bring back the company’s salute to The Jazz Age with a reboot of Derek Deane’s Strictly Gershwin.



Aug 22, 2023, updated Aug 22, 2023
Rachael Walsh tap dancing in Strictly Gershwin. Image: Supplied

Rachael Walsh tap dancing in Strictly Gershwin. Image: Supplied


If any show was worth coming out of retirement for it’s Strictly Gershwin. So former Queensland Ballet star Rachael Walsh is dusting off her tap shoes and hitting the stage again when the show comes to the Lyric Theatre at QPAC from September 28 to October 7.

Rachael Walsh was in the acclaimed production in 2016 and has fond memories of that. It was a huge hit but not everyone could get a ticket which is why Queensland Ballet’s artistic director Li Cunxin, soon to retire from the job, decided to make a new season of Strictly Gershwin one of his parting gifts.

This production celebrates the glitz and glamour of the 1920s and 1930s in a stunning tribute to the music of brothers George and Ira Gershwin. It’s also a tribute to the sparkling age of Hollywood and Broadway musicals and Li Cunxin says he can’t wait to share it with audiences again.

“It’s one of the most magnificent productions of all time,” Li says. “It’s a melting pot of classical ballet, singing, tap and ballroom dancing and the best of the sensational music by the Gershwins. “We performed it in 2016 and due to popular demand, we can’t wait to present it again.”

Former principal artist Walsh,  now the company’s Director of Foundation and Endowment, is in rehearsals for her comeback. Her life is quite different now.

“Last time I remember rehearsing with my first child Illiya sitting in the corner on a mat,” she recalls. “She was just a baby. Now I have three children – Margaux is five and my little boy Austin is one and Illiya is now seven.

“That first time I did Strictly Gershwin dancers would take turns holding her and she watched from the wings during rehearsals. I was pleased when Li said he was bringing it back because I know of all the ballets we have done this is the one most requested.

“And he asked me if I would consider comparing back again and said he’d love me to tap again. I thought it might be a bit much but sometimes you have to bravely jump in.”

Walsh actually retired in 2014 so her first turn in Strictly Gershwin was a comeback too and now she has another at the age of 45.

She says working with British director and choreographer Derek Deane in person was a treat and she’s excited that he is coming back to Brisbane for this latest production.

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It was created in 2008 by Deane for the English National Ballet and the show has since been revived in London and it has toured extensively in the UK. Queensland Ballet is the first Australian company to have done the show which also features singing and that makes it an attractive proposition for the audience.

In 2016 Queensland Ballet had a dream quartet, all singing stars in their own right – Rachel Beck, Michael Falzon (who tragically died in 2020 at the age of 48), Alexandra Flood and local vocal hero Luke Kennedy.

The singers for this latest season are still under wraps although we can tell you that Luke Kennedy is coming back and that’s great news because he has finesse and class and is quite the crooner, perfect for this production with music adapted by Gareth Valentine. And what music it is, classic songs including Someone to Watch Over Me, It Ain’t Necessarily So, I Got Rhythm, Summertime and Rhapsody in Blue.

If you love musicals like An American in Paris this is the show for you and the production features two halves – one dedicated to Broadway, the other to Hollywood films.

It will summon the stage magic of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers with classic costumes and props owned by Queensland Ballet and Tulsa Ballet in the US which has also done this production. It features the full company and Rachael Walsh says it gives everyone a chance to shine.

“It’s such a privilege to be coming back to dance with these incredible artists,” she says. “It will be a lot of fun. My number is Lady Be Good and I have gentlemen in top hats and tails dancing with me.

“What I love about this is that it appeals to everyone and it is just so glamorous and it embodies the joy of music. Am I crazy returning to the stage? Well let’s just hope I can be as timeless as the music.”

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