REVIEW: Queensland Ballet’s ‘Li’s Choice’

Playhouse, QPAC
Reviewed June 10

It has been a decade since Li Cunxin took over the reins as Artistic Director of Queensland Ballet, and this specially curated program of works, “Li’s Choice”, celebrates the milestone. It also celebrates the company – its breadth, depth and diversity.

The three short works sit well with each other, making the program a well-balanced exploration of the company’s range. The first, choreographer Greg Horseman’s Glass Concerto, was an acclaimed part of the 2017 “RAW” season. The neo-classically-styled piece is for three couples, in stylish black outfits designed by George Wu that peel back to a leotard brevity as the work progresses.

The first movement has an unrelenting urgency which allows nowhere for the dancers to technically hide. Singly and in pairs, they surge downstage from the inky blackness of the smoke and haze-filled space – Cameron Goerg’s effective lighting design cutting shafts through the blackness.

The sparse, crystalline clarity of the movement ebbs and flows with the distinctive rhythms of the Philip Glass score. Yanela Piñera delivers this clarity impeccably. Supported by the three men in a pas de quatre of molten turns and lifts, she embraces the fluidity of Horseman’s tricky choreography with its constant directional changes, speed and buoyancy.

Patricio Revé was also impressed with his expansive line, immaculate turns and high, light elevation. Together with Piñera and the other two couples (Chiara Gonzalez and David Power and Mia Heathcote and Joel Woellner) they made an exciting ensemble.

In a finale of virtuosic display, the men spin and leap – bare legs revealing a finely tuned muscularity – while the women’s series of whipped pique turns were thrilling in their oily silkiness.

Natalie Weir’s expressive work We Who Are Left was originally a highlight of the 2016 program “Lest We Forget”, to honor the soldiers of World War I. Choreographed to selected parts of Benjamin Britten’s The War Requiemand inspired by Wilfred Owen’s evocative poetry, this is a visually striking, emotionally charged work that clearly shows Weir’s astonishing flare for exploring the human psyche through movement.

Choreographed for five couples, costumed in shades of battledress grey, it explores the classical canon fearlessly. Duets, while more restrained, are no less inventive, while emotion is encapsulated by Weir in the subtlest of movements.

Shaun Curtis was a powerful presence as The Man Who Lived in an athletic section for the men to brass and percussion that captured the spirit of soldiers preparing for war – its horror, as well as its tragic aftermath.

Lina Kim gave a heart wrenching performance in the Memories of Love pas de deux with Vito Bernasconi as she says good-bye. Lucy Green’s solo in the section She Who Was Left was another highlight, the pair of boots at her feet a poignant signifier of loss.

The final work, newly acquired by the company, was Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Elite Syncopations. Created in 1974, it is MacMillan at his most playful, in what is essentially a dance concert to the ragtime music of Scott Joplin and others. The curtain rises on a virtually bare stage, open to the wings, with 12 musicians (from Camerata) led my Nigel Gaynor on piano, on a rostrum upstage.

Conceived as a series of short dance pieces in a setting reminiscent of the dance halls of the 1920s, where those not dancing gather in groups on the periphery, the various characters flirt, dance and vie with each other for the limelight in a succession of rags , cakewalks and slow drags.

Outrageously colored lycra unitards for the dancers are variously patterned with arrows, stars and stripes, buttons and bows. The musicians’ costumes are more restrained versions of those extravagant designs by Ian Spurling.

The choreography demands virtuosity and a restrained comic flair from the dancers, and they didn’t disappoint. Highlights were many: Lucy Green’s witty and sultry Calliope Rag; Neneka Yoshida’s tongue-in-cheek delivery of the Stop Time Rag; and the elegant Georgia Swan and diminutive Luke Dimattina in a masterful and hilarious interpretation of The Alaskan Rag, requiring almost gymnastic dexterity as they battled their height difference.

Elite Syncopations, very much a product of the 1970s, was conceived by MacMillan as a little bit of fun and froth. Nearly 50 years on it is still engaging audiences, receiving a standing ovation on opening night. It was a jolly conclusion to the celebration of Cunxin’s tenure.

– DENISE RICHARDSON

All photos by David Kelly.

‘Li’s Choice’ continues till June 25. For more info, go here.

Read Karen van Ulzen’s interview with Li Cunxin about his 10 years with the Qld Ballet here.

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