Artistic Director Li Cunxin pulled two wonderful “rabbits” out of the hat when he secured Birmingham Royal Ballet principal Jenna Roberts and Carolyn Judson, principal dancer with Texas Ballet Theatre, to replace injured Queensland Ballet (QB) principals Rachael Walsh, Meng Ningning and Clare Morehen for their season of “Elegance”. Soloist Lisa Edwards was also injured and therefore the rank-and-file company dancers were given an extraordinary chance to shine.
The evening comprised five works, which, while all firmly sitting within the classical idiom, showed variety of style and mood. The jewel in the middle of this selection was Ben Stevenson’s Three Preludes.
Choreographed in 1969 to three preludes of Sergei Rachmaninoff, this is a gentle, sensitive love duet that develops in intensity, beautifully played in this performance by Emma Lippa.
Guest artist Judson and Huang Junshuang performed the first prelude with an emotional intensity that was mesmerising in movement that traversed a barre placed centre stage. Judson was particularly captivating, showing exquisite line as well as strength and control in difficult sustained promenades across and over the barre.
With the barre’s removal the second and third movements move with more fluidity across the stage. Here Huang, a wonderfully sensitive partner, also showed off his beautifully extended line. His guest contract with QB finishes this season and he will be missed.
The opening work, Ershter Vals contains a message about redemption, with its genesis in stories from the Jewish ghettos of World War II. Choreographed by Ma Cong to the compelling strains of Hebrew folk music, the work is for four couples, the women in swirling dresses in shades of orange and red against a cyclorama also in similar mutable shades. Mainly duets, all on demi-pointe, the movement is a fluid swirling of female around male with recurring motifs of upturned feet and hands used throughout.
The movement develops in speed and detail as the work progresses, and was always cleanly and crisply executed by the dancers, while Nathan Scicluna and Sophie Zoricic stood out in a particularly expressive duet.
Gareth Belling’s Sweet Beginnings was conceived as a prequel to his Bittersweet seen earlier this year; therefore it too looks at a relationship, but in its early optimism. Music of Vivaldi was performed live by the string quartet, Collusion, seated upstage centre on a raised platform.
Essentially a pas de deux with support from two other couples, the work shows wonderful use of the upper body and arms, a strong point of Belling’s. However, after a promising beginning the work loses its way, with the middle section seeming a little underdeveloped.
Lina Kim, however, danced with elegance and refinement, capturing the emotion of the piece. She was in safe hands with Matthew Lawrence who added gravitas and maturity.
Greg Horseman’s Verdi Variations choreographed to the ballet sections of the operas Jerusalem and I Vespri Siciliani cleverly uses the music to create a comic through-line that explores, very tongue-in-cheek, the rivalry and hierarchy that often exists in a ballet company.
The ballet sits in a totally black setting, offset by a liberal sprinkling of fairy lights and three crystal chandeliers. The dancers, in starkly contrasting white tutus and tights, were therefore fully exposed in what were difficult combinations of turns and lifts – some not as cleanly executed as they could’ve been.
Lawrence, alone and centre-stage, established the mood immediately with self-deprecating humour. His partnership with Jenna Roberts was commanding and their interactions very funny. Roberts is a tall, elegant and refined dancer who added the right amount of glamour to the work.
Soloist Yu Hui also showed comic flair when, after many “false” starts, he finally made an uninterrupted entrance into his soaring solo, turns and jumps always immaculate.
Verdi Variations as the final work of the program delivered the requisite pizazz in what was overall a well-curated suite, and definitely elegant works.