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2014 Dance Reviews

 

Flourish

Various choreographers

Queensland Ballet

Playhouse Theatre

Queensland Performing Arts Centre

South Bank

Brisbane

 

ERIC SCOTT August 4, 2014.

 

QUEENSLAND Ballet’s season of Flourish is program of beauty, grace, and excitement. Li Cunxin brought together a magical mix of ballet variation: four pieces all different in style, but all equally enthralling to watch.

I for one could not a pick favourite on the night; each was a sheer joy to watch in its individual way and all were danced perfectly.

 The opening dance, Serenade, was a 40-minute piece of sheer elegance and symmetry danced to Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings in C Major and choreographed back in 1934 by George Balanchine.

It is a famous piece that needs an amazing amount of discipline and technical ability, and it has a touch of Berkley Busby-style early Hollywood movie musical dance choreography. An obvious influence from Balanchine’s gtime as a choreographer for Broadway and Hollywood musicals.

The movements were fluid, and formed ever-changing patterns of lines, circles, and intricate arm movements. The company was well up to the task with hardly ever a break in the tight formation dancing.

But not only did we see the company dancers at work; we also saw some superb solo dance from Principal Meng Ningning, and company dancers Lina Kim and Katherine Rooke, two of the younger members of the troupe who both have shown enormous progress since they began.

After the first interval came the Grand pas de deux from La Esmeralda, choreographed by Ben Stevenson after Marius Petipa and this gave tutu-clad Teri Crilly the chance to dance this exacting and highly technical work with guest artist Dmitry Zagrebin, a former soloist with the Bolshoi Ballet.

Teri brought her usual exuberance to the role and, as always, added her inimitable acting ability with her flirtatious dance with her suitor. It was great to see her succeeding in such a strong technical pas de deux with a great partner.

This was followed by Nils Christe’s Short Dialogues. This was a dance created in 2011 by Christe for Queensland Ballet’s then principal dancers. It was proved to be a huge favourite with the audience in 2011 and it was just the same this time.

It was a typical Christe piece with relentless and exciting movement that must have been utterly exhausting for the dancers, but it brought out the best in the new Queensland Ballet team. It is an exciting and erotic piece that takes three couples through the different emotions in their relationships.

There was huge applause when Clare Morehen was joined with her original partner Keian Langdon, who is now on his way to dance with the Ballet Kiel in Germany. It was applause well earned too. They were superb together.

Meng Ningning was the other principal who danced in the original with her partner Hao Bin. This time however she partnered company dancer Nathan Brook while the third couple, was danced by Lina Kim and Principal Matthew Lawrence.

With three strong men the ballerinas were superb, Clare as always had a beautiful line, Meng, usually such a fragile looking dancer had the chance to show her true strength and Lina, well she gets better every time she steps into her pointe shoes.

There was a second interval and then came the finale – a contemporary dance choreographed and staged in Brisbane by Nicolo Fonte – Bolero, danced to Ravel’s most famous composition.

This brought Clare Morehen back to the stage, partnered by Emilio Pavan along with other couples in which some of the newer company dancers joined the more experienced ones. They were Natasha Kusch and Vito Bernasconi; Mia Thompson and Rian Thompson; Vanessa Morelli and Alec Roberts and Eleanor Freeman and Zach Fang.

I must confess I did not like the opening, an adagio danced to an ear-shattering noise that sounded like a tornado rushing through the theatre. The choreography was excellent and danced well too; it was just the absence of music I found disconcerting.

But once the Bolero began the dance was electrifying and absorbing,

It was another high from a company that has so much stature and talent and maturity.

It continues until August 9. Bookings: QTIX 136 246.

Romeo and Juliet

Music by Prokofiev

Choreography by Sir Kenneth MacMillan

Queensland Ballet

Lyric Theatre

South Bank

Brisbane

 

ERIC SCOTT June 26, 2014

 

THIS truly international creation, blended by Artistic Director Li Cunxin, was simply outstanding in every aspect. It had operatic intensity, brilliantly created characters, stunning sets and costumes, sublime dancing and achingly beautiful, character driven choreography. The score is sheer joy to hear just on its own and the story, so well known and deeply poignant and filled with wonderful people.

It’s no wonder Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s work, first performed in 1965, has survived so spectacularly since its creation. It is sheer magic and was faithfully recreated for this season by stager Julie Lincoln.

The opening night audience raised the roof with cheers and applause when the curtain came down on the fabulous crypt scene where the tragic lovers died splendidly. When Romeo tried to dance with the dead Juliet, it was heart-rending and went just long enough to carry the man’s disbelief and devastation to belief and acceptance. It was beautifully done.

Sir Kenneth’s widow Lady Deborah MacMillan gave the Queensland Ballet permission to stage the ballet – and it is an honour that is very well investigated before being bestowed.

I heard Lady MacMillan on radio saying how well she thought the Queensland Ballet Company could do the ballet. She was right and was lavish in her compliments to the company after the opening.

And the dancers too were brimming with excitement after being given the chance to perform such a legendary piece. Comments ranged from the joy of dancing the celebrated choreography to working with the famous guest dancers and the English creative team. Those not involved in the opening were bursting at the seams to get on stage in the alternate casts.

The imposing but functional set, based on the 1992 production, was a perfect backdrop to the Elizabethan drama, it was heavy with atmosphere and the costuming matched the set with a true period feeling.

On Opening Night Juliet was danced by Spaniard Tamara Rojo, the elfin faced Audrey Hepburn lookalike, who is currently director and principal dancer with the English National Ballet.

She was stunning in every aspect of the dance as we watched change from the mischievous young girl to stubborn young lady and finally to the love struck woman. She was just exquisite.

Her Romeo was Queensland Ballet principal dancer Matthew Lawrence, the former Australian Ballet principal who proved yet again what a strong and talented dancer he is. Their pas de deux were gripping to watch.

When the curtain rose to the music played by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Andrew Mogrelia – with incidentally some sublime solo work on violin from Concertmaster Warwick Adeney – it looked like the set of a Cecil B DeMille blockbuster movie with a cast of thousands as the Market Place filled with townsfolk in all forms from hawkers to harlots and of course the sworn enemies, the Montagues and Capulets.

It was a joyous opening as the main players were introduced with the teenage mates, Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio (Ryan Thompson).

 I loved Daniel Gaudello’s interpretation of the happy-go-lucky joker Mercutio, he had the fun-lover down perfectly even in the fight to the death with the menacing, brooding Tybalt, danced with power by Vito Bernasconi.

And when the brawl between the young bloods broke out in full the stage was filled with very authentic sword-fighting.

I remember being impressed with Scott Witt’s fight choreography back in 2010 with François Klaus’s version of the ballet, but this was something else. British fight director Gary Harris has worked world-wide and for this ballet he created precision fighting like you’ve never seen before. The clash of the blades matched the percussion of the orchestra. This was mind blowing with some great death scenes.

In this scene again the reality of character shone through. The town harlots, danced with garish wigs and flashy frocks by Eleanor Freeman, Meng Ningning and Sophie Zoicic, were not there just for laughs. They were outsiders, despised by the townsfolk and taken advantage of by the young men, and the dances dug deep inside the characters. It was great stuff.

Hao Bin showed his acting skill too as the unwanted suitor Paris. He was not a cold-hearted villain, but much more sympathetic as he tried so hard to win the unruly, disrespectful Juliet.

Steven Heathcote came into the fold as Lord Capulet and Rachael Walsh was a toffee nosed Lady Capulet who turned tragic as she mourned the death of her nephew and then her daughter.

Christian Tatchev Director of Training and Janette Mulligan Ballet Mistress were both conscripted to play the Friar and Juliet’s nurse,

The season runs until July 5. Do not miss it.

Shadowland

Pilobolus Production

Artistic Directors Robby Barnett and Matt Kent

Playhouse Theatre

Queensland Performing Arts Centre

South Bank

Brisbane

 

ERIC SCOTT June 12, 2014

 

THIS is a magically enchanting show; it is part Alice in Wonderland, part Peter Pan, part dance, part shadow puppet and part circus. But what a beautiful blend it turned out to be.

Shadowland, fully imported from the US, is on an Australasian tour and is one of those shows that leaves an audience open-mouthed with amazement that the human mind and body can create such wonders. It was 90 minutes of sheer entertainment.

There is something there for everyone, young and old. It has a lot of comedy, some astounding moment and a few poignant spots as well as music and dance - and of course those unbelievable creations we saw on the screens.

The show is set to an original score ranging from ballads to rock by American composer David Poe.

The whole of the huge Playhouse stage was used with different sized screens manhandled around to give different shadow images.

 It all starts with a teenage girl arguing with her parents about her freedom to do as she pleases. She falls to sleep and in her dreams she sees her shadow moving behind her bedroom wall. Then the wall begins to move and she follows her shadow into a weird world of strange creatures and odd adventures.

She meets a bunch of cooks with a walking cooking pot and a few creeping spiders. The cooks were creating a dish that included those spiders, lobsters, a telephone, other strange objects, and finally the girl herself.

At one stage the girl was followed by a giant hand that completely enveloped her and she emerged as a dog - and what a realistic little black dog it was with wagging tail and flapping tongue. It was all done by movement and contortion by Heather Jean Favretto.

 The hand then enveloped her again and the result was a not quite complete restoration of the girl – she still had a dog’s head.

So with the added hazard of being different she suffered from ridicule, but found love with an amazing Minotaur. She paid a visit to the zoo where we saw the animals including a realistic elephant and a camel.

The dog-girl’s tormenters chased her to the edge of a cliff where leapt into the sea and we saw her drift slowly down to the sea floor to join the crabs and other sea creatures. It is a giant jelly fish that brings her back to the surface to continue her dream adventures.

These included a trip to New York where the dancers created the city’s legendary Manhattan skyline which highlighted the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty. And to finish off this incredible evening, she boarded a plane that flew off to Australia

A troupe of dancers, male, and female created those creatures and landscapes – and not only that but cars, plane, a castle and even the Sydney Opera House in a mind-blowing localised finale danced to The Land Down Under.

The shadowy “Cheers” and finally “Brisbane” brought loud cheers from the highly appreciative audience.

The contortions and split- second timing needed to create the images in cameo were never seen, but not hard to imagine as the shadows morphed into animals and objects that told the story of the girl.

We also got to see the dancers live in front of the screen and they produced circus like acrobatics with the whip-cracking Crystal Butler as a pretty awe-inspiring ring mistress.

This is a show where the word “unique” can truly be used. It has only a short run in Brisbane - until June 15 - before it moves on. Grab a ticket it will be a great investment for the memories you will carry for years.

Bookings: QTIX 136 246,

Mother Africa – Circus of Senses

Rokitz Entertainment, Nue Levo and FKP Scorpio

Playhouse Theatre

Queensland Performing Arts Centre

South Bank

Brisbane

 

PAULINE SMITH May 17 2014

 

MOTHER Africa brings to life the beauty, richness and colour of Africa in a way that makes you realise we all lost a little something when we went ‘out of Africa’ all those eons ago.  It is an explosion of colour, sound, and visual art that is simply breathtaking and should be experienced.

The show literally vibrates, gyrates, whirls, twirls, stomps and bomps its way through 90 minutes of spectacular artistry so that you feel that it has finished all too soon.

The opening number features drums, and there is something about the primal rhythm of a drum that speaks right to your core and makes you want to get up and dance.

Mother Africa is also a party from start to finish. It is obvious that the performers love what they do by the big smiles on their faces, and the audience, loved them back for it.

 The performers come from all parts of Africa, Ethiopia, Ghana, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Kenya and the Ivory Coast for some, and are backed by a talented band, which provides the various rhythms for the dancing and singing.

The singing and dancing numbers were interspersed with circus like performances and acrobatic feats that were jaw-droppingly amazing. The dance numbers were highly energetic particularly the traditional dance of the South African mine workers.

The performers also encouraged the audience to participate with clapping sequences, but everyone was soon lost as it became more and more complicated.

The acts commence with Baraka Juma who shows how to ride a unicycle, but not just the standard one – he has a plethora of unicycles in all shapes and sizes and you just can’t believe that he is even able to ride them, let alone balance.

A lovely young lady from Ethiopia, Alemu Truneh Sewasew, wows the audience with her foot juggling – with all manner of items from square cloths to African pots and tables. She spins them around so fast and every which way imaginable.

Another Ethiopian, Yeshewambebrat, wiggles her way around the stage with hula hoops on arms, legs, around the body – all going at the same time. She concludes her act with one very large hoop and I think I counted at least 20 hula hoops thrown on.

Still with the spinning theme, Emmanuel Laryea, shows what can be done with large dishes (about the size we would soak our feet in). He has up to seven spinning at one time and is also performing contortionist type actions to boot. Remember the one your Dad probably showed you on how to move the cup and saucer around and under your arm without spilling the liquid in it? Well try that with two or three spinning dishes at the same time!

The audience was also treated to what can be termed as the traditional circus strong men; however the Ramadhani Brothers were exceptionally strong. They perform what is known as hand to hand. The ‘base’ brother had the audience gasping as they watched him lift and move his brother around, whilst moving around himself.

And then, Tomas and Tamrat thrill with their somersaulting spins in what is known as Icarian Art. Tamrat lies back on a special sofa and flicks, spins and kicks Tomas around in the air. Just when you think you have seen it all, they do something even more spectacular.

But the most amazing act I have ever seen on stage has to be Lazarus from Kenya. His act is so good, so utterly amazing you can’t believe your eyes that he can do what he does it is freakish in its amazingness. This man can do things with his body that even a snake would drop its jaw at. I could hear the audience around me uttering things like “No, he can’t possibly do that!” But he did, folding himself in half – backwards and performing contortionist manoeuvres that just didn’t look possible.

The costumes are vibrant and colourful, depicting many areas of Africa with pattern and headdress, as well as the more ‘typical’ costume of loincloth and accessories.

The stage featured a back drop on which various pictures of scenes from Africa, animals or the map of Africa in various animal prints appeared. In front of these were African animal cut outs. The flats also featured the animal print theme with leopard and zebra. There were no stage hands, as such, with the performers assisting other performers on stage with props.

Winston Ruddle is the founder and art director of Mother Africa which is described as being 100% African, 100% joy and 100% party. This is definitely true for the last two, however I would say it was 99.99% African because of the tiger cut out.

I absolutely loved this show

Mother Africa opened on its Australian Tour at the Playhouse, QPAC on Tuesday 13 May and continues in Brisbane until May 17. It will tour around Australia and will return to Queensland in June, so you can still catch its unique performance.

Coppélia: World premiere

Choreographed by Greg Horsman after Saint-Léon and Petipa

Music by Delibes arranged by Andrew Mogrelia

Queensland Ballet and West Australian Ballet production

Playhouse Theatre

Queensland Performing Arts Centre

South Bank

Brisbane

 

ERIC SCOTT May 1, 2014

 

WHAT a fabulous night out this proved to be. There was something for everybody –exquisitely executed and often very technically difficult, classical dance, a great piece of comic Scottish dance, some Austrian knee slapping and an overwhelming feeling of fun and exuberance and even a tutu or two.

This world premiere of Greg Horsman’s ballet was quirkily funny, had a great storyline with amazingly believable characters, excellent acting and dancing of the highest quality. It was a total triumph for a company that must now rate one of the best in the country.

The action has been changed from the original Austrian village to the real South Australian town of Hahndorf, which is classified as Australia's oldest surviving German settlement.

With the historical Australian mix of nationalities during the 18th and 19th centuries the multicultural make-up of the current company allowed easy translation of the Austrian characters and gives credence to names like Franz and Swanilda, Smit and Kluge.

Add to that the Scottish contingent and a few Asian faces and it all looks like almost any Australian location.

Horsman has also added depth to Dr Coppélius’ character by giving him a great back-story and a reason to try to create a living doll with Frankenstein-like equipment.

Through a big screen film we saw the doctor and his daughter board a ship heading for Australia. His daughter died and it was a distraught and unhinged man who arrived in Hahndorf and upset all his neighbours with his unfriendliness.

Coppélius was played by Paul Boyd and he proved that while he may no longer be a lithe and limber dancer, he still has strong stage presence and a great acting ability. He really brought the man to life.

What really set the tone for this very family friendly ballet were Swanilda and her village girl-friends. They were so teenage; full of mischief and flirtatious behaviour. Then of course the boys were just as much fun many dressed in their old-style Collingwood football jerseys. There was so much vitality that it flooded the theatre.

One of the girls, Liesel Kluge, was danced by Lina Kim and what a terrific character she created. She was the village goody-goody, who was forever trying to stop the other girls from doing naughty things. She has really grown in confidence as a dancer in the past year.

Tamara Hanton, Teri Crilly, Katherine Rook and Sarah Thompson made up the boisterous quintet.

Another outstanding performance came from Eleanor Freeman as a vivacious Mary McTaggart and her boyfriend Angus, danced by Vito Bernasconi, was a great partner.

There was also an exquisite solo dance from Meng Ningning as Mrs Kluge in the third act as she led the prayers for the recovery of Mary, who had been accidentally hit on the head when Coppélius swung the inert Coppélia doll in his anguish.

Everyone in the huge cast danced and played their roles without blemish, but the undoubted stars of the night were Clare Morehen and Huang Junshuang as the young lovers Swanilda Hoffman and Franz Smit.

Clare brought out all the pouty anger of a teenager who thinks her boyfriend is being unfaithful after seeing him flirting unsuspectingly with the Coppélia doll and her dancing, particularly in the adagio sequences, was stunning. She had some very exacting pointe work too which she did wonderfully.

Huang despite coming from mainland China portrayed a character as Australian as you can get. He hid his confusion of Swanilda’s behaviour by mixing it with his football playing mate – who incidentally played an excellent and amusing football game on stage.

Huang and Clare danced like perfect partners.

There were so many scenes in the three-act ballet that were full of fun but no more than the second act when the girls and Franz invade Dr Coppélius’ home and discover his weird and wonderful creations. The set was a great credit to Hugh Colman’s design with disembodied legs floating in the air and crossing and uncrossing legs at the rear of the stage.

This was of course where Swanilda dressed as the doll and Clare Morehen was just brilliant as she danced Petipa’s original choreography. It was yet another highlight.

The entire ballet is a joy from beginning to end.

The season runs until May 10. Bookings: QTIX 136246.

Manon

Choreographed by Sir Kenneth MacMillan

Music by Jules Massenet

Arranged and orchestrated by Martin Yates.

The Australian Ballet

Lyric Theatre

Queensland Performing Arts Centre

South Bank

Brisbane

 

ERIC SCOTT February 24, 2014

 

WHAT a stunning production! It has power, raw emotion, an absorbing story, unbelievably strong dancing, and a pounding score that rattled the roof with brass and timpani.

Peter Farmer’s sets and costumes were sumptuous to say the least and William Akers’s original lighting plot reproduced by Francis Croese was just brilliant as it lit each scene with cinematic qualities.

The action was dramatic, violent and in parts highly sexual and always gripping.

And not only was there some exquisite and haunting dancing, but amazing buffoonery with a drunken dance and a finale where the corpse is made to dance.

It was a simply magical evening in which the audience often dispensed with the usual polite applause because they did not want to miss one second of the action. 

The plot, with its operatic twists and turns, tells of the seduction of the sweet girl Manon, who is halted in her journey to enter a convent  when she meets and falls instantly in love with the handsome student de Grieux danced by principal dancer Kevin Jackson.

Her brother, Lescaut, a raffish and criminal type, danced by Rudy Hawkes, however sees a chance to make some money when he tells an old man who fancies the girl that he fix up liaison for the right amount. He gives cash to the bewildered girl, but she runs off with the student instead.

Then a rich and powerful noble Monsieur GM, tells of his interest in the girl and Lescaut promises, for even more money to bring his sister to his bed. Monsieur GM is danced very imposingly by guest artist Stephen Heathcote, a long time Australian Ballet Principal who retired in 2007.

The steps were gentle, but the menace he presented was amazing as he created a character that would not be crossed with impunity.

Manon was danced by Amber Scott when I attended and, partnered by Jackson showed what an endearing and talented pair they are. Jackson is an incredible strong dancer with perfect balance. Together they were true-loves in the bedroom pas de deux, where the innocent girl is kittenish and happily in love.

What a contrast in the pas de trios in a later scene when Lescaut persuades her to leave the penniless student to live in luxury with Monsieur GM. It is danced with great agility and passion as the moves flux between reluctance and acquiescence. It was a very moving dance.

  How very different was Hawkes’ performance in the second Act when he, very drunk along with de Grieux attends a party thrown by Monsieur GM. He danced, did pratfalls, dropped partners, and staggered rhythmically around the stage.

 It was brilliant choreography brilliantly danced. Also very much involved with the action was the raunchy girl who is Descaut’s mistress.  This was one of the other stand-outs of the night as danced by Senior Artist Amy Harris.

She is a stunning dancer and has immense stage presence.

In this scene too Amber Scott shows her acting ability as the newly rich girl who flaunts her riches. And thanks to the lighting plot the tension between her, de Grieux and Monsieur GM is almost unbearable.

The sight of her true love proves to be too much for the naïve girl and, taking her riches with her runs away to de Grieux’ lodgings only once more to be tracked down by the vengeful  Monsieur GM.

This time there is no money, no mercy, just murder and wrathful injustice as Manon is arrested as a prostitute and transported to New Orleans. de Grieux follows her, posing as her husband. Manon’s final degradation from the jailor is so shocking that it can only lead to tragedy and of course it does.

The jailor is shot by de Grieux and the pair run off to the swamps where, after a haunting look of the ghosts of her past life flash before us she dies sand do comes the oh so poignant and brilliant final pas de deux.

This was classical ballet in its purest and most passionate form. I feel privileged to have seen it.

It continues until March 1, Bookings: QTIX 136 246