No holds barred as Queensland Ballet dances into 2024

Queensland Ballet starts its 2024 season as it means to go on – delivering city slickers and regional ballet fans a stage production to savour

Mar 04, 2024, updated Mar 04, 2024
Queensland Ballet's Chiara Gonzalez and Patricio Reve in Three Preludes by Ben Stevenson.

Queensland Ballet's Chiara Gonzalez and Patricio Reve in Three Preludes by Ben Stevenson.

With the appointment of world-conquering Rockhampton ballerina Leanne Benjamin as artistic director it has worked out perfectly that Queensland Ballet is kicking off 2024 by playing in her hometown and other regional cities as well as Brisbane.

After premiering at the company’s Talbot Theatre at West End, the four-week program becomes Queensland Ballet on Tour, moving on to Goondiwindi, Toowoomba, Maryborough and Bundaberg.

It will return to the Talbot from March 11 to 13 before going on the road again to Caloundra, Charters Towers, Cairns and, finally, Rockhampton.

That will be a full-circle moment for Benjamin, who left Rocky more than 40 years ago as a schoolgirl destined for great heights that were fulfilled in London as The Royal Ballet’s longest-serving principal artist.

Putting together a home-and-away mixed ballet program involves complex considerations beyond selecting a cross-section of works that will appeal to both city and regional audiences.

Their portability and adaptability are prime considerations because stage sizes and technical setups will vary between locations. And with the company simultaneously rehearsing for its first 2024 mainstage production, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which opens on April 12, the number of dancers required for each performance and their grouping by casting is another key factor.

Requiring a maximum of 24 dancers, the current season ticks those boxes with a well-balanced quartet. There’s the historic crowd pleaser of Le Corsaire pas de deux, famed for its virtuosic spectacle, two neoclassical showcases of romantic elegance inspired by Rachmaninoff, and a new creation that pays tribute to ballet’s greatest composer Tchaikovsky (and choreographer Marius Petipa) while also inverting traditional conventions.

Bookended by the contrasting Rachmaninoff pieces, the program’s sequence progressively builds emotion and intensity.

Named for the featured piano passages, Three Preludes depicts a couple falling in love across a ballet barre. Through Ben Stevenson’s understated choreography, the pair’s shared work tool symbolises a barrier to cross and overcome while also exploring their growing connection. It is a study in subtlety that belies the strength and control involved in its fluid transitions.

Well matched technically and aesthetically, principal Patricio Reve and senior soloist Chiara Gonzalez are compelling together.

Just as Three Preludes’ degree of difficulty might not be apparent at face value to newer ballet-goers, Tchaikovsky Mash will register on different levels depending on how intimately the viewer knows Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty’s pairing of music and choreography.

QB Ballet Master Matthew Lawrence uses his expertise to both highlight and subvert familiar tropes of classical purity drawn from imperial Russian balletic and cultural heritage. He shakes up famous marriages of melody and movement by swapping Odette and Aurora’s expected solos for a prince telling a different story. While such references may be obscure to some, humorous visual flourishes land across the board.

For all the piece’s playfulness, though, Lawrence hasn’t shirked the technical challenges involved in emulating Petipa. The cast of 11 – featured couple principal Joel Woellner (Principal Man) and soloist Georgia Swan (Ballerina), her Shadow and ensemble of eight dancers – are mostly on top of these, but the bare stage setting that facilitates touring also exposes any shortcomings more glaringly.

This dichotomy, magnified by the limitation of two principal artists per cast, also applies to Le Corsaire.

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Whereas Three Preludes’ pas de deux has a concentrated focal point, Le Corsaire needs the couple to fill the stage with their movements and energy. Here Reve can project his charisma and bravura fully into the explosive jumps and turns that make this one of the greatest exhibitions of male dancing.

Normally a faultless turner, Reve shirked an uncharacteristic wobble to finish strongly, even if not quite attaining his usual peaks. The ballerina’s choreography is also demandingly showy, especially its fouetté turns. While not quite nailing everything, soloist Laura Tosar’s mettle and composure will continue serving her obvious potential.

Assistant artistic director Greg Horsman’s A Rhapsody in Motion: 2nd and 3rd Movement provides a fully satisfying and uplifting conclusion. Its 20 dancers expand our focus and comfortably fill the open space, both physically and through its ebullient energy and dreamy mood. This sense is enhanced by costumes in an array of sanguine hues, the women’s featuring floaty diaphanous skirts.

Premiering to acclaim in 2022, Horsman’s response to Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini feels effortlessly organic, while also incorporating breathtakingly inventive lifts and transitions.

Running 90 minutes including interval, the program at home and on tour is a refreshingly comfortable length for audiences. Despite the test of starting with a higher technical bar than usual we can expect the company to quickly smooth out rough spots as the year progresses.

Queensland Ballet at Home until March 13; Queensland Ballet on Tour until March 27

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

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