Queensland Ballet’s first mainstage production of 2017 is an emotionally-charged triple bill featuring works by Liam Scarlett, Greg Horsman and Christopher Bruce. The three pieces are themed around love, loss, and death, creating a captivating performance that seeks to explore the raw edges and emotions of the human experience.

Raw opened with No Man’s Land, choreographed by Liam Scarlett, who became a more permanent fixture at Queensland Ballet as Artistic Associate in 2017. Staged by Yohei Sasaki and set to Franz Liszt’s Harmonies Poétiques et Religieuses, the piece was created as a commemoration for the WWI centenary, and offers a meditation on the entwined destinies of the women working in munitions factories at home, and the men in the trenches waiting to return to them.

Laura Hidalgo and Rian Thompson in No Man’s Land. Photos © David Kelly

Liam Scarlett’s highly physical choreography made audiences feel almost claustrophobic, but the dancers handled it skillfully. Lighting design by Paul Keogan and impressive sets designed by Jon Bausor created a bleak backdrop against which the emotion and expression of the performers was amplified. The visual of gunpowder being flung into the air was particularly effective.

Laura Hidalgo and Rian Thompson were dynamic together as the principal couple of the piece, Hidalgo always a pleasure to watch with her stunning extensions and attention to detail. Yanela Piñera and Joel Woellner performed an incredible acrobatic duet with beautifully executed lifts, excepting one minor fumble. They performed the fast-paced choreography with precision, grace and chemistry. Mia Heathcote was a graceful standout in her duet with Victor Estévez, exploring the persistence of love in the face of tragedy. The male corps dancers displayed great strength and control, and their partners danced beautifully together as well. In the opening of the piece Piñera seemed to be half a beat behind on every movement – if this was an artistic choice, it was a distracting one.

No Man’s Land concluded with a powerful, emotional duet between Thompson and Hidalgo, who kept tempo as the pace escalated quickly. The audience was held in silent rapture by their work, such that during a lull in the music all that could be heard throughout the theatre was Hidalgo’s breathing.

Yanela Piñera in Glass Concerto

The second piece was Greg Horsman’s Glass Concerto, set to Philip Glass’ Violin Concerto. The work has been developed over several years from a two-movement ballet titled One More Breath – which Queensland Ballet performed as part of their 2013 season – to the completed ballet in three movements included in Raw. Repetitive and staggered movements held the three consecutive duets together beautifully and gave the whole performance a kind of kinetic energy. Within the choreography were so many shapes – extensions, arabesques and port de bras creating a beautiful mess of limbs, a collage of movement that was fascinating but still cohesive enough that the audience didn’t feel like they might be missing something elsewhere on the stage if they watched one dancer or couple for too long.

Glitzy costumes designed by George Wu, known for his bespoke bridal and evening wear, evolved throughout the piece and showed off the dancers’ extensions beautifully. Lighting design by Cameron Goerg helped to create a set where there was none, and complemented the mystical feeling of the piece as dancers faded in and out of view in thick onstage fog.

Alexander Idaszak always has beautiful suspension in his work, and his partnership with Yanela Piñera was dynamic. Tamara Hanton also impressed, handling complex lifts with ease and grace, and Lina Kim-Wheatstone, along with Piñera and Hanton, executed a stunning series of pirouettes around the stage. All dancers maintained excellent synchronicity and displayed great power, precision and control despite the complex choreography.

Sophie Zoricic and Liam Geck in Ghost Dances

The final piece of Raw was Christopher Bruce’s iconic Ghost Dances, created in response to Pinochet’s bloody coup against the elected Allende government in Chile, South America, and later praised around the world as a defining piece of choreography. In the lead-up to opening night, Queensland Ballet shared a short video clip on their social media of Artistic Director Li Cunxin performing as one of the ghost dancers during his time with Houston Ballet. Staged for Queensland Ballet by Dawn Scannell and Steven Brett and costumed by Belinda Scarlett, Ghost Dances made an impression on its audiences simply by being so different from what we often encounter in contemporary ballet.

Christopher Bruce attributes his inspiration for Ghost Dances to meeting Joan Jara, the widow of a Chilean folk singer who had been tortured and murdered by Pinochet’s forces. After researching Day of the Dead and studying indigenous movement from the area, Bruce created Ghost Dances as a tribute to the courage of the innocent people of South America, and an illustration of what they had been through. Lighting designed by Nick Chelton and recreated by Cameron Goerg added to the eerie atmosphere of the piece and the haunting score of South American music, interspersed with silence and natural sounds, was arranged by Nicholas Mojsiejenko.

D’Arcy Brazier, Joel Woellner and Samuel Packer were the men behind the masks, giving an exceptional performance as the eponymous ghost dancers. Unsettling and hypnotic, they were perfectly in time – with no background music to cover the smaller sounds of feet landing on the floor, it would have been very clear if anyone was out of sync. Clockwork-esque movements brought them fluidly from motion to stillness and back again. Whirling skirts and scarves from the corps added colour and texture to the otherwise dark and murky world of the ghost dancers, as their story intertwines suddenly with the world of the living.

Teri Crilly is always full of energy and was a joy to watch in her pas de deux with Jack Lister, and Georgia Swan also stood out with technical precision and beautiful expression. Liam Geck’s brief solo was executed with meticulous technique despite the high speed at which it was performed. All of the corps dancers seemed so attuned to one another, it was truly powerful to watch – every nuanced movement in time and responsive to the movement of the other dancers. Queensland Ballet has certainly done justice to this emblematic work.

Poignant and mesmerizing, Raw may bring you to tears and will certainly move you to applause.

Queensland Ballet will be performing Raw at QPAC, Brisbane till March 25


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