A new La Bayadère, a Firebird with a Game of Thrones makeover, and a much-loved Cinderella are among the ballets.

Queensland Ballet has today announced its 2018 programme, describing it as “a season of dreams: bringing dancers’ dreams to life, telling dreamy stories, continuing to reach for its dreams as a Company and making audiences’ dreams come true.”

The programme includes a new La Bayadère by Australian choreographer Greg Horsman, a double bill featuring Carlos Acosta’s Carmen and Liam Scarlett’s Firebird, the return of Ben Stevenson’s Cinderella, a second Bespoke season, and in what has become a Christmas tradition for Brisbane audiences, Stevenson’s The Nutcracker to round off the year.

La Bayadère. Photograph © Justin Ridler

The season opens in March with Horsman’s La Bayadère. “Greg has such a respect for the classics yet always manages to bring a freshness to his ballets,” said QB Artistic Director Li Cunxin. “Greg’s productions of Coppélia and The Sleeping Beauty have become some of the most popular ballets in our repertoire and I know this production will join them as a favourite for many years to come.”

Set in the exotic world of the 19th-century British Raj, the ballet tells the tragic tale of the thwarted love between temple dancer Nikiya and the Maharajah’s son Solor. Horsman will style his choreography after Marius Petipa whose original ballet, created to the music of Ludwig Minkus, premiered in St Petersburg in 1877.

La Bayadère contains one of the most famous classical ballet scenes of all time: the Kingdom of the Shades in which Solor has an opium induced vision of the ghosts of Nikiya and other temple dancers. Featuring a beautiful, hypnotic parade by the corps de ballet in white tutus and veils, performing a repetition of low arabesques and sweeping port de bras, it is one of the most loved examples of “ballet-blanc” foreshadowing the white swans in Swan Lake.

The scene prompted New York critic Clive Barnes to say: “If you don’t enjoy La Bayadère, you don’t really enjoy ballet.” A co-production with West Australian Ballet and Royal Winnipeg Ballet, La Bayadère runs March 16 – 29.

Firebird. Photograph © Justin Ridler

In May comes the “fiery” double bill of Carmen and Firebird. Various choreographers have been drawn to Prosper Merimée’s novella Carmen, the passionate tale of the gypsy Carmen and her jealous lover Don José on which Georges Bizet based his perennially popular opera, among them Petipa, Roland Petit and Mats Ek. Cuban dancer/choreographer Carlos Acosta created his version as a co-production between The Royal Ballet, where he was a Principal Guest Artist from 2003 to 2016, QB and Texas Ballet Theater, using an adaptation of Bizet’s music by Martin Yates. The 60-minute ballet premiered in London in 2015 where it received mixed reviews but proved popular with audiences.

Li has paired Carmen with Liam Scarlett’s Firebird, choreographed in 2013 for the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet. The British choreographer is the QB’s Artistic Associate and Cunxin said he was “elated” to welcome him back with his version of the mythical tale. Set to Igor Stravinsky’s ground-breaking score, which incorporates elements of folk music, The Firebird was originally created for the 1910 Paris season of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes with choreography by Michel Fokine, and is based on Russian fairy tales of a magical glowing bird.

Reviewing the Norwegian production, the Financial Times said: “Briton Liam Scarlett gives The Firebird a Game of Thrones makeover, constructing a nightmarish fantasy with designer Jon Bausor… In a striking gothic world of shattered mirrors and giant eggs, Scarlett displays fluent, characterful movement – inlcuding sly references to Fokine’s – and a penchant for over-complicated partnering in duet, but the overall result is most satisfying.”

Cinderella. Photograph © Justin Ridler

In September, QB revives Ben Stevenson’s classical story ballet Cinderella, which was originally created in Washington DC in 1970 to music by Prokofiev. Li performed in it when he was a Principal Dancer with Houston Ballet in the 1980s when Stevenson was Artistic Director, and programmed it at QB in his first mainstage season in 2013 when Dance Australia called it “a little gem”.

“The choreography is exquisite, the costumes and sets delightful and the characters consistently engaging. Audiences will love it,” said Li.

In 2017, QB launched its inaugural Bespoke season, describing it as “a creative intersection of art forms”. “Bespoke provides us with an opportunity to invite guest choreographers to not only create new works on our dancers but to also collaborate with other art forms to bring new dimensions to ballet,” said Li announcing the return of Bespoke in 2018.

Bespoke. Photograph © Justin Ridler 

“Next year’s season will feature new works by Company artist Jack Lister, guest choreographer Gabrielle Nankivell (who created Wilderbeest for Sydney Dance Company) and another artist yet to be announced as well as a collaboration with Expressions Dance Company. Hitting the Powerhouse stage in November alongside an exhibition of visual artists from film, photography and sculpture, this will be a season not be missed,” said Li.

The 2018 season for Brisbane ends with the return of Stevenson’s much-loved production of The Nutcracker, which Li has established as a Christmas tradition. “We’re thrilled that our audiences keep coming back to this Christmas classic and it warms our hearts every year as we see families over various generations come together through ballet,” he said.

In June/July, QB will take Ben Stevenson’s hugely popular production of Swan Lake on a regional Queensland tour after its sell-out 2017 Brisbane season. And in October, the Company will tour to Melbourne with Liam Scarlett’s acclaimed A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a co-production between QB and the Royal New Zealand Ballet. When the production played in Brisbane in 2016, Limelight gave it a four-and-a-half star review and called it “a light and humorous adventure that leaves audiences transfixed”.

Swan Lake. Photograph © Justin Ridler

Summing up the season, Li said: “I’m so proud that we have a Company that can move seamlessly from very traditional classics like Cinderella to innovative seasons such as Bespoke that merge our artform with other mediums and artists. We look forward to a year that fulfils dreams, inspires dreams and brings dreams to life.”