The gala began with an audio-visual presentation of the company’s history. It traced their timeline, from first opening in 1960 under the leadership of Paris-born Charles Lisner, to the contributions made by current Artistic Director Li Cunxin. Celebrating a 60th birthday is quite a milestone, especially after last year. It is even more significant when artistic directors, Kevin McKenzie (American Ballet Theatre), Ben Stevenson (Texas Ballet Theatre), Tamara Rojo (English National Ballet), Carlos Acosta (Birmingham Royal Ballet), Kevin O’Hare (The Royal Ballet), and David Hallberg (The Australian Ballet) filmed personal messages to celebrate the achievement. The inclusion of these messages in the opening of the evening is, in part, a strategic act to impress the audience. But it also comments upon the place and reputation Queensland Ballet has rightfully earned in the international ballet ecology—one that has grown exponentially since Cunxin’s tenure.
After the short film, the production showcased excerpts from the company’s repertoire. The first was “Chopin pas de deux” performed by Mia Heathcote and Joel Woellner. Choreographed by Lisner in 1965, the piece is a romantic visualisation of Chopin’s Concerto no. 2 for Piano in F minor. Heathcote’s sweet radiance matched perfectly with the calm serenity of Woellner. Together, the pair moved effortlessly across the stage. Neneka Yoshida and Camilo Ramos performed a heartbreaking rendition of the Act II pas de deux from François Klaus’s “Cloudland.” Telling the story of a woman who conjures up the spirit of the young lover she lost to war, Yoshida and Ramos were wonderful to watch. The tavern scene from Jacqui Carroll’s “Carmina Burana” injected masculine power and passion into the gala. There were times when the ensemble lost their synchronicity, but when everyone was on the beat, it was a stunning performance. A special mention must go to Liam Geck whose technique and commitment were outstanding.
Next was “The Lady of the Camellias” pas de deux from Act II, choreographed by Harold Collins. First artist Sophie Zoricic and soloist Vito Bernasconi performed the character roles beautifully. Hopefully in the future, these two dancers—Bernasconi in particular—will continue to get the opportunity to refine their characterisation skills further.
The clear highlight of the evening was the “Don Quixote” wedding pas de deux, performed by Yanela Piñera and Patricio Revé. Piñera brought her trademark confidence and cheek to the role of Kitri. She was matched by the bold bravado of Revé—who was promoted to senior soloist only a few nights before. The most delightful part of this pas de deux, however, was the raised left eyebrow that accompanied Revé’s suspended pirouettes and perfectly landed tours. It was if he was asking the audience “oh, did you like that?” and replying immediately afterward with “well, if you keep watching, I might do that again.” Few dancers have the ability to command an audience the way Revé did that night, and it was a wonderous thing to watch.
The gala concluded with Harald Lander’s “Études.” This is the first time Queensland Ballet has performed the iconic work and the decision by Cunxin to include it in the program suggests where he wishes to take the company in the future. The importance of “Études” does not lie in its content or choreography but in its genre. Lander’s ballet is a one-act abstract work—a genre that Brisbane audiences only get consume on rare occasions. We are, on the other hand, extremely familiar with the full-length story ballet. So much so, that it has become an unspoken requirement for companies who decide to tour here. In 2017, the Royal Ballet performed “The Winter’s Tale.” In 2018, La Scala Ballet presented “Don Quixote” and “Giselle.” In 2019, the Bolshoi Ballet brought “Spartacus.” We have also, for quite a long time, been the test audience for new works that will later be shown in Sydney and Melbourne. So, to have “Études” on the programme was a welcome delight. Through it, Cunxin delivers an important message to his audience. He acknowledges the success that Queensland Ballet has had since his appointment, but also promises to evolve and expand the company’s repertoire beyond the confines of the story ballet.