A friend in high places: Lady MacMillan rates Queensland Ballet ‘up with world’s best’

Queensland Ballet has been touted as one of the best international ballet companies in the world ahead of the opening of the classic Manon.


Sep 28, 2022, updated Sep 30, 2022
Queensland Ballet's Manon opens Wednesday.

Queensland Ballet's Manon opens Wednesday.

Regarded as one of renowned choreographer Kenneth MacMillan’s most iconic works, Manon follows the tale of a young French peasant girl conflicted by love and yearning to be free from poverty.

MacMillan’s widow and keeper of the estate, Lady Deborah MacMillan, arrived in Australia this week to supervise Queensland Ballet’s rehearsals ahead of tonight’s opening.

“Manon is something that needs to be done by large classical companies and not all of them get a chance to do it,” Lady MacMillan said.

“I think Queensland Ballet’s proved more than once, it’s right up there with the big companies worldwide.”

She said Queensland Ballet is one of the few chosen to perform Manon, which is promised to only a select few companies. She praised Artistic Director Li Cunxin for the work he had done over the past decade to elevate the company to an international success story.

“This company’s gone from something very tiny, to … an international company,” she said.

“Because I’m not a dancer, I rely entirely on the professionals, and I have a wonderful bunch of people who go and look at companies. In the case of Li Cunxin, I haven’t had to do that.

“I’ve known him since he was in tights and I know him as a friend, and when he approached me to do Kenneth’s worth, I knew he wouldn’t ask unless he could come up with the goods.”

In another coup for the company, Li is stepping out of professional dancer retirement back on stage for three performances in the role of Monsieur GM.

“Rehearsals are going really well and it’s wonderful to rehearse and work with our wonderful dancers, but I have to say I’ve put my body through some pretty difficult times,” Li said.

“Manon has three major leading roles for male dancers. I have danced two of them, and the third one is Monsieur GM which is a very crucial and important role, it needs someone with lots of experience. It’s always been on my bucket list and I’m so happy I get to do it now.

“I’ve put my body through some pretty difficult times – a lot of soreness and dealing with old injuries because this role involves a lot of partnering and a lot of lifts, but I have to say I’m loving it. I can’t wait to perform the ballet.”

Li will be joined on stage by his wife, Queensland Ballet Principal Répétiteur and Ballet Mistress, Mary Li, who said it’s a stunning production to watch.

“The music, the storytelling, the intrigue, the drama, the dancing – it has everything in it,” she said.

“It’s quite euphoric really – it’s one of the most iconic ballets of this century.

“Every dancer in the world wants to be in this ballet, they want to dance this ballet. Every company wants to have this ballet, so we’re very lucky to be given this opportunity by Lady Deborah MacMillan…We’re all very excited.”

The Company has also secured world-renowned ballerina, Alina Cojocaru to perform the role of Manon with Queensland Ballet for two select performances from 5 October.

Senior soloist Mia Heathcote will play Manon in one of the four rotating casts assigned to the production.

“Preparing for a role like Manon is really iconic, and I think every ballerina would love to do this role,” Heathcote said.

“The main thing for me in trying to dive into her character is trying to do a lot of research myself. I believe she is very multi layered so there are many aspects to her personality, and I think that her decisions and her persona almost changes with what she experiences.

“I think survival is a huge part of her journey, and she learns by example. Her brother really manipulates her, so I believe she learns to manipulate herself.

“I believe she’s very driven by what she experiences in life and how she can survive in this oppressive age.”

Queensland Ballet’s Manon runs from September 28 to October 8 at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre.

FOOTNOTE: After a successful opening night of Manon, Artistic Director Li Cunxin announced on stage that Mia Heathcote and Patricio Revé would be promoted to Principal Artists with Queensland Ballet.
After the final curtain call, Li took the spotlight to thank Mia and Patricio “for the hard work, dedication and perseverance they have demonstrated over the years. Tonight, they displayed exceptional professionalism, artistry, and technicality as Manon and Des Grieux”.


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