They got rhythm – QB’s nod to the jazz age still has pizzazz

Talk about a no-brainer. If ever a show outside of ballet’s perennials was going to make an encore, it’s Queensland Ballet’s Strictly Gershwin which is now on at the Lyric Theatre at QPAC.

Sep 29, 2023, updated Sep 29, 2023

Talk about a no-brainer. If ever a show outside of ballet’s perennials was going to make an encore, it’s Queensland Ballet’s Strictly Gershwin

Which is now on at the Lyric Theatre at QPAC.

It just took longer than originally anticipated. The blockbuster tribute to the great sibling composers whose timeless music inspired classic Hollywood and Broadway musicals broke Queensland Ballet’s (QB) box office records in 2016. The Australian premiere season was also the first time another company had staged the lavish production created for English National Ballet by then-artistic director Derek Deane.

His choreography for 60 dancers teaming classical with jazz ballet and tap, augmented by stunning costuming and accompanied by a quartet of great singers and a big band on stage makes for a grand spectacle.

But it’s not just the nostalgia of the work itself that resonates. Opening night at QPAC’s Lyric Theatre was clearly one of the year’s most anticipated, for the opportunity to embrace the event’s golden era glamour as much as the performance. The gathering under the foyer’s crystal chandeliers could have been a party scene from The Great Gatsby. This was easily the dressiest first-night audience I’ve seen in years.

There’s also the allure of returning cast members, some coming out of retirement. In the case of former QB principal dancer Rachael Walsh, again. She guested in the original show two years and one child after hanging up her pointe shoes and now the company’s Director of Foundation & Endowment has three kids.

Back then her tapping prowess was a revelation. What hasn’t changed is Walsh’s radiance and charisma and her effortlessly elegant artistry – the fluidity of her upper body and arms are exquisite. Looking a dream, she again steals the show with her star power in Oh, Lady Be Good, reteaming with fellow guest hoofers Bill Simpson (tap choreographer) and Kris Kerr, who have several winning numbers including Fascinatin’ Rhythm and I Got Rhythm (which I couldn’t get out of my head when I got home). The trio have a lovely rapport, although Walsh and Simpson’s style and presence are more aligned.

Act I’s conclusion also conjures cinematic magic, distilling An American in Paris and its famous ballet sequence. Principals Joel Wollner and Mia Heathcote (reprising her role) matched engaging characterisations with palpable chemistry. They were also gorgeous together in Summertime, the duet in which then-new company member Woellner had stamped himself as a talent to watch in 2016.

The breathtaking beauty of Act II’s opening tableau always draws applause: a visual Rhapsody in Blue (tutus). Perhaps not surprisingly, this is the most balletic of the pieces, featuring three couples spearheaded by principals Neneka Yoshida & Patricio Reve.

While there are big group numbers and nods to American razzamatazz, it is the partnering that lingers – notably, apart from that already mentioned, the breezy lightness of Lina Kim and Rian Thompson reprising their Someone to Watch Over Me duo, and Yanela Pinera teaming with real-life partner and guest artist Camilo Ramos in the sultry Argentinian Tango-inspired It Ain’t Necessarily So.

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Original production crooner Luke Kennedy is back joined by rising opera star Nina Korbe, Naomi Price and Ben Mingay, who all have opportunities to showcase their formidable talents.

The Queensland Symphony Orchestra and guest pianist Daniel Le sound fabulous under the baton of guest conductor Michael England,  reflecting the brilliance of composers George and Ira Gershwin.

Overall, the performance wasn’t quite as taut as usual however and the energy and excitement didn’t reach fever pitch like last time. How much of that was due to its then-novelty is hard to say.

What is certain though is that this combination brings back the romance and glamour of a bygone era that will be a welcome distraction for audiences of all ages.

Strictly Gershwin is on in the Lyric Theatre, QPAC, until October 7

 This article is republished from InReview under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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