There was a certain poignancy surrounding this Canberra season by Queensland Ballet. Having announced his retirement from the role of Artistic Director of Queensland Ballet at the end of this year, due to health problems, it will be the last time Li Cunxin will visit this city in that capacity.
As an example of what he has achieved during his tenure with the company, he could hardly have chosen better. From the moment the curtain rose on Queensland Ballet’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the first-night audience knew it was in for something very special.
Created for the company by choreographer Liam Scarlett, who at 35, died under tragic circumstances in 2021, as a co-production with the Royal New Zealand Ballet, this production features a magnificent set and costumes by Tracy Grant Lord, evocative lighting by Kendall Smith and performed to a recording of Mendelssohn’s familiar music, which itself was inspired by Shakespeare’s famous play.
This is not the only ballet inspired by this music. The Australian Ballet will perform a version by Frederick Ashton, The Dream, in the Sydney Opera House next month, which utilises the same music.
Liam Scarlett’s exquisite version is notable not only for its inventive choreography but for the clarity of its storytelling and even without Shakespeare’s words, his complicated story, set in an enchanted forest inhabited by a fairy king and queen and their entourage of busy fairies intruded upon by quarrelling mortals and hilarious rustics whose problems are exacerbated by a mischievous fairy who wreaks havoc with his fairy dust; is told with perfect clarity.
Apart from offering scintillating dancing, it is also wonderfully entertaining, exemplified by the peals of laughter from the audience responding as much to the cleverness of the choreography as to situations in which the characters found themselves.
On opening night the roles of Titania and Oberon were performed by Lucy Green and Victor Estevez, both of whom dazzled with their witty characterisations and exquisite dancing, particularly in their final pas de deux in which the complicated lifts appeared effortless.
Similarly the quarrelling lovers, Hermia, Lysander, Helena and Demetrius were brought to vivid life by Mia Heathcote, Alexander Idaszak, Georgia Swan and Vito Bernasconi; each offering unique characterisations to enhance their flawless dancing.
Kohei Iwamoto won the hearts of the audience with his cheeky personality and virtuoso dancing as the mischievous Puck, while Rian Thompson, even with his face hidden under a donkey’s head for most of his performance, impressed with his sunny personality and comedic skills.
Personality and skill was the hallmark of the whole company, with each of the dancers, including the fairies and rustics, managing to create unique characterisations without compromising their performance of Scarlett’s brilliantly inventive choreography.
In a passionate response to Canberra Theatre Centre Director, Alex Budd’s listing of his achievements as Artistic Director of Queensland Ballet, Li Cunxin gave an uncharacteristically frank warning that Queensland Ballet would not be able to maintain the progress it had achieved under his leadership, without an increase in Government funding. Hopefully the right people were listening, because the performance just witnessed would have thrilled any audience in the world.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Canberra Theatre – Canberra Theatre Centre, Civic Square, London Circuit, Canberra
Performance: Wednesday 25 October 2023
Season continues to Saturday 28 October 2023
For more information, visit: www.queenslandtheatre.com.au for details.
Image: Artists of the Queensland Ballet in A Midsummer Night’s Dream – photo by Nathan Kelly
Review: Bill Stephens OAM