Wow! The impact of entering the grand promenade of the refurbished Thomas Dixon Centre is an experience in itself. Before you’ve even got to the performance, you’ve been transported to a stimulating cosmopolitan realm.
Queensland Ballet’s reimagined home successfully juxtaposes old and new – the comfortable familiarity of heritage with the excitement of novelty and possibility. It’s been designed as a cultural and community hub that invites the outside world in, to observe, become immersed, wonder at and enjoy, starting with the foyer exhibition The Secret Lives of Costumes and soon adding dining to dancing.
Anticipation goes hand-in-hand with the “new” smell of the 350-seat Talbot Theatre, its intimate auditorium facing a classic luxe red velvet curtain. Behind that lies a spacious stage the same size as QPAC’s Lyric Theatre’s.
The production values for Bespoke match the setting, and it’s the type of triple bill that stretches the company and the audience. Each work generates its own distinct milieu, and the movement styles and mood are eclectic and divergent.
Petros Treklis’s Tethered immediately transports us to an ominous netherworld dominated by menacing figures shrouded in black gauze. The combination of Zoe Griffith’s striking costumes, the brooding intensity of James Brown’s commissioned score, and Cameron Goerg’s contrasting lighting generates a potent and unsettling atmosphere.
The theme exploring duality and the unknown is depicted in the interplay between the shadow forces and Tethered’s hero couple, Sophie Kerr and Joshua Ostermann. Mostly, it represents a power struggle of opposing wills, although at times they coalesce and flow harmoniously. Some parts suggest the subconscious or dream states.
While we’ve seen mirroring before, it’s one of those devices that when well-executed remains effective – which is the case with the duet between Ostermann and his shadow self, Edison Manuel. In this guise, Manuel also has some gorgeous pas de deux with Kerr featuring scissoring legs, twisting transitions and arching lines that leave lasting images.
While ultimately the concept feels a little laboured, Tethered is an excellent showcase for the talents of Queensland Ballet’s Jette Parker Young Artists.
The next work is wildly different. Stephanie Lake’s Biography demonstrates why she is one of Australia’s hottest choreographers.
The piece is quirky, unpredictable and at times, puzzling – in contemporary dance the latter is frequently a cause of alienation, but not here. Lake constructs the work’s movement sections so skilfully that you are onboard for the ride, wherever it takes you.
Lake says in her non-prescriptive program notes that she wants audiences to be taken to a place of imagination and to squirm in their seats – I’d say that result is like a child whose curiosity is piqued at the same time, and that’s her secret. There is one short section that had us scratching our heads, its surrealism inviting bemusement and later discussion and speculation.
The disparate score alone gives you an idea that you’re going to travel to extreme locations – classical, experimental, hip hop and folkloric.
Biography’s opening sees the dancers, in singlets, shorts and socks, individually bouréeing across the stage to the baroque Passacaglia della vita, punctuating their passage with silent scream poses, then continuing. As it continues, they break out more expansively and into different groupings and patterns. There are mimed fights scenes between pairs featuring montages of punches, kicks and head-twists that don’t connect, and dances of ducking and weaving in an array of rhythms.
Lake’s structure is clever, creating amusement in the extreme and also the relatable and mundane, the latter delivered in a finely-honed sequence of gestural unison.,The women bring plenty of ’tude and swag (aka attitude and swagger) in response to East African rapper MC Yallah’s multi-language Kubali (First Company Artist Vanessa Morelli is a standout here).
One can read into the concluding sections featuring Khosh Ensemble and Ukrainian Folk Choir solidarity for Ukraine – albeit each expressed very differently. Suffice to say both are ways we’ve never seen from Queensland Ballet’s dancers before. It’s all part of Biography’s cracking rollercoaster.
Bespoke’s conclusion is an uplifting neoclassical showcase that ensures the purists will leave delighted. Choreographer Greg Horsman’s A Rhapsody in Motion reflects the vibrant moods and energy of Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paginini, matched simply in costume and lighting.
With the dancers dressed for class, he has more fun with the barre than the apparatus usually inspires as their foundation tool, abstracting traditional exercises into gymnastic, off-kilter and inverted positions. At the same time, there’s no shortage of exactitude as Horsman runs his cast through the lexicon of intricate and precise steps and lines.
A lyrical middle section brings emotion to the fore in solo and pas de deux work, and gives the dancers the opportunity to flaunt control and strength in powerful overhead lifts and extensions.
The final uptempo movement represents the dazzling interplay of artistry and technique in making the virtuosic look effortless. There may be fluffy pink tutus but this repertoire is hard core. Cue breathtaking jumps and lifts, more rapid footwork and fiendishly fast chaînés and fouettés (Principals Lucy Green and Yañela Pinera are standouts), in what represents an endurance feat, finally bringing all 24 dancers back together. The execution is impressive, a testimony to the strength of the artists individually and as a company.
Queensland Ballet’s Bespoke plays at the Talbot Theatre, Thomas Dixon Centre until 30 July.