Don’t break my heart! HOTA goes BIG with Romeo and Juliet

International ballet artists join with talented professional local dancers to entrance audiences with the greatest love story ever told when BIG Live transforms HOTA’s theatre into the streets of Verona

May 09, 2024, updated May 09, 2024
BIG Live is back with the debut of two new works, including performances at HOTA this month of the greatest love story ever told - Romeo & Juliet.

BIG Live is back with the debut of two new works, including performances at HOTA this month of the greatest love story ever told - Romeo & Juliet.

BIG debuted in 2022, the Ballet International Gala acronym representing not only its ambitions but also the feat of bringing global superstars to Brisbane during the pandemic.

Since then BIG has grown its following across another three seasons and states, but it’s not done shaking up classical dance’s status quo.

Now, under the banner of BIG Live, local independent producers Joel Burke and Khalid Tarabay are expanding into original full-length professional productions, premiering a bespoke version of Romeo and Juliet on May 17.

Following two nights at HOTA on the Gold Coast, the production will travel to Newcastle and Sydney.

Creating new choreography, costumes and sets from scratch is such a huge and costly undertaking that it’s usually left to the nation’s three funded full-time ballet companies, but BIG Live’s 24-year-old artistic director Joel Burke embodies “where there’s a will there’s a way”.

BIG Live’s vision to give homegrown talent performance opportunities outside of the limited places offered by traditional institutions is backed by generous Australian benefactors.

“Tim and Gina Fairfax and Jonathan Horton KC and his wife Rowena have been incredible supporters,” Burke acknowledges. “We’re very thankful and hopefully can make them proud showing that we kept our promise to keep artists working.”

The many emerging professionals without company contracts usually face a choice between moving overseas or an unsustainable performance career path if they stay here. Being in that position led Burke to co-found BIG when he was just 19.

As well as directing and performing in the galas, he starred in the 2023 international feature film The Red Shoes: Next Step, which was shot in Sydney.

After cutting his choreographic teeth on short pieces, Burke’s accelerated trajectory continued last year when he created a production of  The Nutcracker.

Its well-received interstate tour was spearheaded by stellar international guest artists including BIG alumnus Daniil Simkin. While its cast was predominantly professional, the inclusion of student performers was still one step short of his goal.

So now, Burke is leading an all-professional principal cast and 20-strong corps de ballet, undertaking double duties as Romeo & Juliet’s title character and choreographer. And he’s continuing to challenge ballet’s norms in other ways.

Burke selected his dancers by invitation rather than audition, reasoning, “if there are talented dancers that are free at the time and we have a spot for them, we’ll put them in it. I’d seen people dance and knew who I wanted in what role and most of the people said yes. So it’s working really, really well.”

These dancers include international artist Sebastián Vinet, a former Prix de Lausanne prize winner and jury member as Tybalt, and two well-known local veterans – ex-Queensland Ballet soloist Nathan Scicluna as Friar Laurence and Michael Braun in the role of Lord Capulet.

Other performers’ names might be relatively new, but Burke says that they’re equally deserving of recognition. While some might have fallen through the system’s cracks, there are also those who are simply between contracts, such as alternate Tybalt, Noah Cosgriff, who’s set to join Birmingham Royal Ballet in September.

The role of Juliet will be shared by Brisbane ballerinas Laura McLean and Emilia Bignami. Like Burke, they have worked on developing their character with an acting coach since January.

“We didn’t want cookie-cutter Juliets and every aspect of them is different, including looks. They’ve both had different emotions and realisations about the character at different moments and it’s quite amazing to watch. Both worked extremely hard and are ready to do it, so I thought I want to reward both of them.”

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Although company ballet dancers will routinely work a full day, Burke believes that the structuring of BIG Live’s rehearsals allows his artists to be as productive over a shorter period under the critical scrutiny of experienced Russian teacher Elena Kozhemyachenko.

After more than 100 hours of research, including watching every balletic version he could find, Burke decided to ditch choreographic conventions that didn’t advance the narrative.

“I’ve spent a lot of time understanding how to keep it interesting for people (especially) if they don’t know ballet. Keeping the storyline going has been the main focus, and we’ve kept it very

He rearranged Prokofiev’s titular score, bringing forward its most recognisable passage – the ball’s stately theme – to set the tone between the warring Capulet and Montague houses, and replaced it with Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet (Fantasy Overture).

Burke stresses he’s not trying to compete with the work of greats such as Sir Kenneth MacMillan (whose iconic Romeo & Juliet Queensland Ballet has presented), but instead offer audiences an alternative experience.

“I would hope people would want to see different versions. We love what QB do, and I think we can work (around) each other and together. People don’t realise there’s a massive ballet market now in Brisbane.”

Travelling to more than 10 cities, BIG Live’s 2024 program also includes BIG V, The Nutcracker and a Christmas Spectacular at Sydney Opera House.

Romeo and Juliet plays HOTA, Surfers Paradise, Gold Coast, May 17-18, tickets at

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

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