The Brisbane ballet connection: new faces, new beginnings

Five days in Brisbane, two Bolshoi Ballet performances, one visit to the Queensland Ballet, one Bolshoi Conversation Series talk and 32 lovely tour members.

Ballet lovers from all over Australia and two from New Zealand joined me when I led a Renaissance Tours group to Brisbane to see the Bolshoi perform and the Queensland Ballet in class and rehearsal.

The tour members were eager to meet the QB’s artistic director, Li Cunxin, who allowed us all to watch class and then a coaching session of Three Preludes, choreographed by Ben Stevenson, one of the works in the company’s triple bill next August.

Li and his wife, Mary, coached two couples, Meng Ningning and guest principal artist, Huang Junshuang, and Lisa Edwards and Emilio Pavan.

Danced to the preludes of Rachmaninoff, the ballet is set in a dance studio. It’s a pas de deux, but could be called a pas de trois for a man, a woman and a ballet barre.

The barre is the dancers’ meeting point, a place where they communicate with their eyes and their bodies.

Li explained how difficult the choreography is for the man as he must support his partner in many tricky holds and catches. At one point he supports her as she balances on the barre on one leg and he catches her as she runs and slides under the barre.

Three Preludes was choreographed for the Harkness Youth Ballet in 1969. Three years later it won the first prize for choreography at the International Ballet Competition in Varna and soon after it premiered American Ballet Theatre in New York where it was danced by Gelsey Kirkland and John Meehan.

Li and Mary know the pas de deux intimately, and their joint coaching was fascinating in the way they recalled every element, from a gaze between the dancers, to a small gesture, to a back bend and the placement of a leg.

The Queensland Ballet, under Li’s direction, has big plans, including a the guest appearance of Carlos Acosta and Tamara Rojo in next year’s production of Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo & Juliet and the guest appearance this year of the Australian Ballet’s principal, Daniel Gaudiello who will dance the role of Albrecht in two additional performances of Giselle.

The role of Albrecht will be shared during the season by QB principal, Matthew Lawrence and the guest principal dancer from Houston, Huang Junshuang.

Next year, the QB will be exchanging dancers with English National Ballet and the two companies will co-produce a new work by the English choreographer, Liam Scarlett.

ENB’s artistic director, Tamara Rojo, has commissioned three British choreographers, Scarlett, Akram Khan and Russell Maliphant to create Lest We Forget, a triple bill that will mark the centenary of the outbreak of World War I.

(This brings to mind Stephen Baynes’s ballet, 1914, based on the novel Fly Away Peter, by David Malouf, that premiered in 1998. Next year might be a good time to restage the ballet).

The days when Brisbane was dismissed as Brisvegas are behind us thanks in part to the city’s strong performing arts programming including the Queensland Performing Arts Centre’s annual international ballet series which this year included a Conversation Series over three Saturdays to coincide with the Bolshoi season.

Last Saturday, Li, Leo Schofield (one of the two presenters of QPAC’s series) and I spoke at a conversation chaired by Professor Susan Street, on the subject of Russian ballet, how it evolved in the 19th century, how it fared during the Soviet years, where it is today, and aspects of Russian training and the Russian style.

The Bolshoi has packed up and gone home but there is still a trace of a tutu at QPAC with a ballet costume exhibition titled Tools of the Trade at the Tony Gould Gallery within the Cremorne Theatre at QPAC.

On display are costumes from the QPAC Museum collection, and on loan from the Queensland Ballet and The Australian Ballet.

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Renaissance Tours group, Queensland Ballet Centre, Li Cunxin centre, with Mary Li behind him, to his right

Renaissance Tours group, Queensland Ballet Centre

Renaissance Tours group, Queensland Ballet Centre

Renaissance Tours group, Queensland Ballet Centre

Ballet costume exhibition, Tony Gould Gallery, QPAC, Brisbane

Ballet costume exhibition, Tony Gould Gallery, QPAC, Brisbane

Ballet costume exhibition, Tony Gould Gallery, QPAC, Brisbane

Ballet costume exhibition, Tony Gould Gallery, QPAC, Brisbane, front, Kristian Fredrikson’s costumes for Graeme Murphy’s Nutcracker

Begoña Cao and Esteban Berlanga, Three Preludes, English National Ballet, photo © Patrick Baldwin

Begoña Cao and Esteban Berlanga, Three Preludes, English National Ballet, photo © Patrick Baldwin