With 2022 marking a decade of unprecedented expansion under Li Cunxin’s bold and ambitious leadership, Queensland Ballet is lifting the bar yet again.
The company has unveiled a season that augments its repertoire with one of ballet’s toughest dramatic challenges alongside contemporary world premieres, and also broadens its audience reach with two new venues.
The extension of Li’s contract as Artistic Director for another three years was also announced at the 2022 launch, with Li quipping, “No pressure… actually, the pressure has never gone off”. That’s because he sees his role as continuing to not just dream, but also build. “There are quite a few aspirational visionary projects still yet to be finished,” he explains. “There are quite a lot of exciting new works in the pipeline that I would personally like to see come to fruition. Some of the works are truly going to be incredibly exciting and world firsts. As a leader of this company the big question for me is just how do we sustain and consolidate the success we have achieved? We really want to continue to deliver the success beyond my time.”
Sir Kenneth Macmillan’s Manon will be the jewel in the 2022 season’s crown, gracing QPAC’s Lyric Theatre from 28 September. With its setting in pre-revolutionary Paris and New Orleans, the decadent and tragic tale of the courtesan Manon is visually sumptuous and emotionally compelling. The Australian Ballet has previously been our only ballet company entrusted with performance rights, last presenting the work in Brisbane in 2014. QB’s coup rewards its triumphant staging of Sir Kenneth Macmillan’s Romeo and Juliet on two separate occasions. In a pre-recorded video, Queensland-born Lady Deborah Macmillan said she was thrilled that Li was bringing Manon to his audiences. “The standards for dancing are very high, and I said yes to Queensland Ballet doing it because of (those) spectacular performances of Romeo and Juliet. So, I know it’s going to be a triumph.”
Li acknowledged that in terms of artistic standards Manon would present the biggest challenge for the company since Romeo and Juliet. “[They would] be considered the hardest ballets to perform well – the most challenging technically, dramatically and artistically, and also the scale is huge. It is a massive ballet, so it will require everyone in this company to perform his best to do justice.”
In pursuit of this, Li told Limelight that QB’s leading artists are already developing their characters, and he and wife and former dancing partner Mary Li will be bringing their experience to the roles of Monsieur and Madame GM in selected performances. He added that the same rehearsal team who remounted Romeo and Juliet would return, with Lady Deborah Macmillan also possibly coming to supervise.
The company will also be the first Australian company to present another Macmillan work, Elite Syncopations. Set to the music of Scott Joplin and others, this energetic and colourful ragtime ballet forms part of Li’s Choice: Celebrating a Decade of Directorship, a personally curated triple bill showing at the QPAC Playhouse in June. It will also include Resident Choreographer Natalie Weir’s moving Anzac commemoration, We Who Are Left, and Chief Ballet Master Greg Horsman’s pulsating neoclassical ballet responding to the escalating intensity of Philip Glass’s music in Glass Concerto. “I love the contrast and the balance of the program, but also Elite Syncopations [in which he has performed] is one of my favourites,” said Li.
Another significant development next year is the start of a partnership that will foster a Gold Coast audience base, through a partnership with the city’s HOTA (Home of the Arts). QB will kick off Season 2022 there with its most successful production ever, Horsman’s adaptation of The Sleeping Beauty, in February, and return in November for Moonlight Ballet, a 1960s-inspired double bill of Christopher Bruce’s Rooster and Jack Lister’s B-Sides, featuring music from The Rolling Stones and Nina Simone. This has the added allure of utilising its outdoor theatre, where the company first played in an impromptu season of Giselle in 2020, after COVID-19 caused the company’s original 60th anniversary programming to be deferred until this year.
Originally scheduled for 2021, the Thomas Dixon Centre’s new 356-seat studio theatre boasting a stage the same size as the Lyric’s – part of the redevelopment of the QB’s home base as a world-class arts facility and cultural hub – will open in mid-2022. The four-times deferred world premiere of Horsman’s Peter and the Wolf is scheduled from 24 June, followed by the theatre’s official opening with the fifth annual Bespoke contemporary season in July. This trio of world premieres features the fourth Horsman choreographed piece to be programmed in 2022, alongside commissions by acclaimed choreographers Stephanie Lake and Petros Treklis. The venue will also host the Queensland Ballet Academy Gala in August, which was cancelled this year due to a snap lockdown.
Two classics bookend the company’s Brisbane performances: as it did in Li’s first full year as AD in 2013, Ai-Gul Gaisina’s production of Giselle will tour regionally – to Toowoomba, Cairns and Maryborough – in March before a season at the Playhouse in April, while the annual tradition of concluding the year with The Nutcracker continues at the Playhouse in December.
More information on the Queensland Ballet website.