How a decision born of pure madness helped pave the way for the next BIG thing

The young Brisbane arts entrepreneurs behind the Ballet International Gala series defied the pandemic to start one of the most exciting independent arts projects Queensland has ever seen. Now they are exporting culture interstate, too

Jul 13, 2023, updated Jul 13, 2023
Roberto Bolle, perhaps the top ballet dancer in the world is returning to Brisbane. (Image: Luciano Romano)

Roberto Bolle, perhaps the top ballet dancer in the world is returning to Brisbane. (Image: Luciano Romano)

I thought they were mad. Ambitious but mad. A trio of young Brisbane arts entrepreneurs had a vision to bring some of the world’s top ballet dancers to Queensland and they kick started their project in the middle of the pandemic.

And somehow, they did it with the Ballet International Gala hitting the stage here in January 2022. Now the trio is a duo – Khalid Tarabay and Joel Burke – and they are still going strong with Ballet International Gala IV coming to The Concert Hall at QPAC on August 22.

Their 2023 Ballet International Gala Australian Tour also includes Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne. It’s a lovely idea, Queenslanders exporting culture to the southern states.

They call their events BIG for short, an acronym that reflects their aims.

Joel Burke, a dancer himself who appears on stage at these galas, says that “BIG IV is exactly what it sounds like – a big show with even bigger ideas.”

And the man who some say is the greatest living ballet dancer, the Italian star Roberto Bolle, who has danced at BIG before, is returning for the latest series.

Bolle was principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre for 10 years and has frequently performed as a guest with the world’s most prestigious companies including The Royal Ballet, The Bolshoi Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet. His BIG performance was Bolle’s Australian debut at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre (BCEC) in August 2022 and was quite a coup for the BIG boys.

The Paris Opera Ballet was due to come to QPAC for its renowned International Series but Covid put a stop to that and to the International Series altogether, for now at least. Into the breach and out of left field stepped BIG to fill the gap.

Roberto Bolle will be joined on stage in Brisbane by other international heavyweights from The Royal Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and the Australian Ballet, including Alina Cojocaru, Melissa Hamilton and Aran Bell.  The Australian Ballet is in the mix and I’m excited that two ballet stars from Kazakhstan, Baktiyar Adamzhan and Shugyla Adephan who we have seen before are returning.

I saw them dance the Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia from the ballet Spartacus at the Playhouse at QPAC for the first BIG and they were incredible. This time around they are dancing pieces from the mythological Diana & Acteon and the exotic and beautiful La Bayadere

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BIG’s co-director Khalid Tarabay says he is also “delighted to announce the inclusion of Queensland Ballet principals Victor Estevez, Mia Heathcote and Patricio Reve”.

“Victor will be partnering Alina Cojocaru in BIG’s Brisbane, Sydney and Adelaide shows, while Mia and Patricio will be partnering one another in BIG’s Adelaide, Brisbane and Melbourne shows,” Tarabay says. “BIG’s bite-sized ballet offerings are set to attract a new cohort of ballet-lovers, making the art form more accessible and enjoyable for generations to come.”

The gala format means audiences get to see a range of ballets as well as a range of dancers and this is an accessible way to see ballet, particularly for new audiences.

Since making its debut in January 2022, BIG has attracted some of ballet’s biggest names to perform in Australia, including principal artists from Teatro alla Scala, The Royal Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Staatsballett Berlin, the Australian Ballet and many more.

Over the past 12 months, these dancers have performed to more than 14,000 people at QPAC, BCEC, The Star Theatre and the ICC Darling Harbour and the Palais Theatre.

“And in the past year, we have collaborated with the Australian Ballet School, Youth America Grand Prix and our international artists in producing a series of dance masterclasses, mentoring sessions and auditions which have led to some of Australia’s best emerging talent securing scholarships at some of the world’s most prestigious ballet companies,” Khalid Tarabay says.

“We created Ballet International Gala to challenge the public’s perception of what it means to experience ballet in the modern world. BIG IV highlights the incredible athleticism, artistry and ambition of ballet – one which respects tradition and modernity in equal measure, and most importantly, one which is to be enjoyed by all.”

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