Deck the stalls

79939213_10158199950018866_7036287020859129856_n.jpgThe festive season always means a theatre pause and reflection as to the year’s greatest applause. A Broadway break enabled experience of my new favourite thing in Dear Evan Hansen, which is now up there with Rent as my musical mecca, along with other 2019 faves Hamilton and Mean Girls. Closer to home, however, amongst the usual 100+ shows seen, there are a number of memorable mentions.

Most Entertaining

  • The Gospel According to Paul in which Jonathan Biggins brilliantly portrays the love-him-or-hate-him Paul Keating.
  • 100 Years of the History of Dance (as Told by One Man in 60 Minutes with an Energetic Group Finale), another solo show, this time from Australian director, choreographer and performer Joseph Simons.

Best musical:

  • Sweet Charity – the perfect start of year show from Understudy Productions, the little Brisbane theatre company that has very quickly become a very big deal.
  • the ridiculously funny Young Frankenstein, Phoenix Ensemble’s stage version of Mel Brooks’ 1974 horror-movie spoof and parody of both the musical genre and vaudevillian traditions.
  • The Book of Mormon– the ridiculously still so-wrong-it’s-right musical is still the funniest thing around, even in repeat experience.

Best musical performance:

  • Naomi Price as the titular Charity Hope Valentine in Sweet Charity, a role that appears as if written for her.

Best dance

Best cabaret

Best independent theatre

  • Ghosts – The Curator’s homage to great Norwegian playwright Henrick Ibsen’s controversial play was innovative in its layers of scathing social commentary.

Best comic performance

Best dramatic performance:

  • Patrick Shearer for his powerful and precise performance as the bohemian artist son Oswald in Ghosts.

Most moving

  • Love Letters – the heart-warming story of two people who share a lifetime of experiences through the medium of handwritten letters, presented at Brisbane Arts Theatre by real-life married couple Ray and Melissa Swenson.

Best AV

  • Project Design Justin Harrison’s dynamic projection designs represented a key component of Kill Climate Deniers’ vibrant realisation.

Best new work

  • The relatable guilty pleasure of FANGIRLS – like a witty young adult novel set to music and full of glittery fun, complete with important messages.

Favourite festival show

Notable mention to:

  • Rocket Boy Ensemble’s Reagan Kelly for its killer opening monologue chronicle of night out in the valley
  • Melbourne’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child for its incredible stagecraft of illusions and magic beyond just that of the expelliarmus sort.

Sugar, spice and Nutcracker nice

The Nutcracker (Queensland Ballet)

QPAC, Lyric Theatre

December 13 – 21


“One of the things I love most about The Nutcracker is the way it brings families and generations together…” so reads Queensland Ballet’s Artistic Director Li Cunxin’s program greeting, a sentiment that is immediately realised upon entry into the Lyric Theatre for experience of the classic ballet in two acts. Seeing “The Nutcracker” is a dearly-held Christmas ritual for countless families around the world and now I understand why.

The timeless story, based on ETA Hoffmann’s 1816 tale of “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” about a nutcracker come to life is dazzling one, whether audience members be return viewers or new to the enchanting experience. It is a whimsical, beautiful holiday classic brought to life by Queensland Ballet in a fabulous spectacle of a show.

The story is simple enough and easy-to-follow; guests are being greeted at a Christmas Eve party where the mysterious, magical Drosselmeier (a charismatic Jack Lister) delights with magic tricks and gives Clara (Lou Spichtig) a wooden Nutcracker. He later returns to take us into the next chapter as, at midnight, little Clara begins a magical journey into a wondrous world where her surroundings grow around her as toys come to life. Her nutcracker comes to life to soldier the toys against King Rat and his giant mice army before himself turning into a handsome prince, her house is transformed into the Land of Snow complete with delicate dancing snowflakes, and a beautiful Sugar Plum Fairy appears in reign over the Kingdom of Sweets in which entertainment comes from a range of international dances.

It really is a story of two halves. While Act One’s theatrical amusements entice children in their pantomime-ish sensibilities, Act Two’s repeated ballet sequences serve as a celebration of the art form in and of itself. Impressive choreographic detail (Ben Steveson choreographer) features throughout, adding depth to the flurried Christmas party opening scene in its presentation of the subtleties of generational and gender dynamics at such a gathering, and an ensemble approach allows for many moments of humour, such as in the animated antics of elderly characters at the party, most notably Grandmother (Serena Green) and Grandfather (D’Arcy Brazier). Even the more traditional second act affords opportunity for impressive attention to detail, even if only in background character interactions. And the motifs representative of each country are complemented by costumes within the Arab, Chinese and Russian dances, without compromising the integrity of traditional classic ballet.

Act Two also features the most familiar sections of Tchaikovsky’s iconic, melodic score, one of his most famous compositions. Its nimble sounds are flawlessly delivered by The Queensland Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Music Director and Principal Conductor Nigel Gaynor, from the light and lively first theme through to the triumphant ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ and the wintry and delicate ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’. Also lush is the layered Lyric Theatre staging of Christmas red and green, before transformation into the dreamy Land of Snow, with a beauty that extends even into the stalls. And the special effects that see the house’s Christmas tree grow before our eyes, offer one of many magnificent moments.


The serene snow scene allows for the creation of beautiful symmetrical patterns and formations on stage amidst falling snow, and accompanied by the flickering flutes and flurrying orchestral sounds of the Waltz, it makes for a magical move into interval. Costumes (Design by Desmond Heeley) and movements replicate the idea of unique snowflake swirls and groupings. The mastery of the dancer’s synchronisation is striking, not only when they are dressed as sparkling snowflakes in the first act, but also as flowers in Act Two’s whimsical ‘Waltz of the Flowers’.

Much of the captivating spectacle of the show comes from its performances. As Dr Drosselmeyer, Jack Lister delivers magic tricks and precise illusions with well-executed grand and deliberate moments, while the dolls, particularly Patricio Reve as Soldier Doll, are impressive in their stiffly mechanical physicality and never-wandering eyes-straight-ahead stares, demanding audience attention. And crowd favourite David Power gives a hyper-energetic performance as Act Two’s whirling Russian dancer, leaping about the stage with impressive athleticism.

Spichtig again makes for a youthfully exuberant and innocent Clara, taking the audience along on her wonderful dream within a dream journey, while the Snow Queen and Snow Prince (Liam Kim and Liam Geck) display a captivating synergy, with clean movements. Lucy Green gives a technically-assured performance in the demanding Sugar Plum Fairy role, with impressive point work both in solo and pas de deux with the Prince (Victor Estevez). Indeed, her partnership with the Prince (Victor Estevez) is so breathtaking as to elicit spontaneous applause from the audience during their grand pas de deux, possibly the most beautiful dance of the production. Estevez makes for an elegant prince who showcases apparently effortless entrechats and strings of fouette turns with ease, and stately extensions beyond the ballerina frame, counterbalance and the pair’s triumphant lifts.


Experience of Queensland Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” is a wonderful ‘tis the season treat. In the company’s hands it is easy to appreciate its place as one of the most beloved ballets of all time. Its music is glorious and gorgeously evocative, with a score that is full of unforgettable melodies, turned into a range of beautiful shapes and movements. It has become a tradition for the company to perform it every year during the festive season (this is their seventh successive Nutcracker year) and with its combination of gorgeous sets and costumes, stunning dance and Tchaikovsky’s music, it continues to serve as the perfect festive ballet to get you and yours in the holiday mood, accessible to all ages in its just-over-two-hours running time and warm-hearted combination of comedy, magic and beauty. Whether the show serves as an annual family outing or you are coming into it with knowledge only through pop culture references like in a holiday episode of “Will & Grace” (#guilty), “The Nutcracker” will fill you with the sugar, spice and all things nice of this time of year.

Bespoke beauty

Bespoke (Queensland Ballet)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Powerhouse Theatre

November 9 – 17

As the saying goes, “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.” For me, this is especially the case when it comes to the art of dance; I don’t have familiarity with the vocabulary of ballet moves, however, I can appreciate the overall aesthetic of the art form. And aesthetic is what Queensland Ballet’s “Bespoke” is all about.


In illustration of the company’s varied repertoire, the creative intersection of art forms sets out to challenge assumptions about what dance is, what dancers can do, and how dance is experienced. And in its three-work 2018 attempt to achieve this, it more than succeeds, creating an experience of contrasts for audience consideration.


Three distinct works by three different choreographers each explore unique themes. But the on-stage works represent just some of the night’s sensory dance experiences. Before even entering the theatre, there is Cass Mortimer Eipeer’s dance film about duality, ‘Brute’ and a photographic exhibition of dancers emerging from darkness, in the Brisbane Powerhouse foyer spaces. The positioning of the contemporary dance program against electronic media is an integral part of the intent of the experience and represents much of its success. This is particularly evident in the evening’s first and most substantial work ‘Parts per Million’ (concept and choreography by Craig Davidson), which looks at human behaviour patterns and the idea of change.


The vision is of poetry in motion as dancers glide across the stage in formation within lines of light, like the disinterested, indifferent subjects of John Brack’s iconic ‘Collins St, 5pm’ muted oil painting of urban Melbourne’s repetitive nine-to-five office life drudgery. Though there are some visually impressive moments as dancers cannon in movement, the most impressive moves are when they break free from the uniformity in partner and solo work, sometimes in struggle, before ultimately conforming again to what appears to be their pre-determined course.


Movement is lyrical, yet deliberate with dancers all showing disciplined, statuesque control in execution of traditional pointe-technique type moves amidst the essentially contemporary dance sensibility that is signposted by a soundscape (composer Nicholas Robert Thayer) of evocative strings rising through dramatic percussion to a jazzy resolution.


There are some powerful moments too as lighting (Cameron Goerg Designer) is used to create stunning silhouettes against the industrial backdrop of the heritage-listed location. Light and shade are used metaphorically and literally throughout the work, such as when the ensemble dance in the dark, in a scene of added interest, that could have been enhanced beyond just a front-row treat by having at least low lighting on dancers’ feet.


And when light shines its awareness to force change from conformity, structure and content are subverted, especially when a portable screen is glided across the stage as part of the action.


The second work, Jack Lister’s ‘B-Sides’, is a contrast of colour and Creole opening sounds as dancers shimmy and shake their way through a selection of popular artists from the 1960s, complete with retro vinyl end-of-record sounds. Taking advantage of the large Powerhouse Theatre space, three art installation type block colour rooms of yellow, blue and red serve as settings for some of number’s stories.


The narrative through-lines are easy to follow; a woman in red anguishes about in angular angst in reaction to spying a man in similar coloured dress, sultrying with a woman in blue to Nina Simone’s ‘Don’t Smoke in Bed’. Again, expectations are subverted though, with share of an alternative point of view as attention switches to the assumedly cheating woman’s partner in blue, alone.


Behind the imagined closed doors of the coloured rooms, a lot is happening as a male dancer dons the cheating woman’s dress in lyrical plea to ‘just let me be yourself’, to the exhilaration of ‘You Don’t Own Me’. As partners are mixed, physical strengths are showcased as dancers ascend and hang from compartment walls. Despite the provocation of duets within the confines, the overriding feeling is one of vibrancy and fun with New Orleans colour and movement touched by tango and step dancing dynamism.



The final work, ‘Carbon Field’ also makes excellent use of the vast stage space. The collaboration between Queensland Ballet and Expressions Dance Company showcases both steely strength and subtle fragility in its exploration of duality. Hued together, the masse of dances ebb and flow like the ocean, spilling in ripples and crashing in pattern on the stage before netting themselves outstretched across its expanse in joined limbs.


There is an immediate organic feel to Gabrielle Nankivell’s choreography as the dancers dome together tightly like a diamond before relaxing vulnerably into the carbon of all living things. The continuous movement means everything is interesting, even the effect of the work’s muted common costumes of grey, black and white, with individual details.


With such rich aesthetic interest, “Bespoke” is not only an engaging experience but a provocative one. And while its two interval format may be to enable to substantial set changes required for each number, it also provides wonderful opportunities to discuss personal reactions to and interpretations of the works’ intended messages.


Everything about the evening is high calibre and the fact that it comes at such as accessible ticket price can only be an added bonus. Indeed, “Bespoke” represents all that needs to be celebrated about contemporary ballet and Queensland Ballet should be commended for not only producing high quality, beautiful dance such as that on show in this program, but also for their contribution to the landscape of the art form through the ongoing creation of new and impressive works.

Photos c/o – David Kelly

Creative Collusion

Muscle Memory (Collusion)

Judith Wright Centre, Performance Space

August 17 – 20

Collusion‘s “Muscle Memory” is an exquisite experience of creative collaboration; the shared artistic adventure features the versatile music quartet and exciting young pre-professional dancers from the Queensland Ballet presenting a collection of five heartfelt and virtuosic works. And the result of the heightened synchronicity of dance and live music is simply superb… an experience sure to stay with audiences regardless of their level of dance acquaintance.

urban myths.jpg

From the opening number ‘Urban Myths, a look at the image of the ‘perfect marriage’ and what might lie beneath its sepia photographs, it is clear that all of the dancers are first rate in both execution of former Queensland Ballet’s Gareth Belling’s choreography and conveyance of that something magical that defines ballet. At once graceful and strong, they demonstrate precision, subtlety and strength, whether through Pointe technique or Fouetté, across the range of numbers, from the lyrical liquidity of duets like ‘Mourning Song’, about a woman remembering a lover who has died and their one last dance together, to the machine-like collective synchronisation ‘Transition Sequence.


Collusion, as always, exude excellence, none more so than Benjamin Greaves. His powerful violin performance alongside Cellist Danielle Bentley from front of stage steals the show during ‘Mourning Song’, such is his dynamism of his thoroughly engaging skill. The World Premiere of Philip Eames’ commissioned piano quintet ‘Annealed Cyan Malt’ is also a highlight, adding another layer to the already-unique ‘Refraction’, during which dancers are all signed a colour, and can only interact with the colours directly next to them in the spectrum.


Supporting the works’ thematic diversity is Ben Hughes’ luscious lighting design, taking audiences from the contrasting passion and tranquillity of ‘Urban Myths’ to the kaleidoscopic colour and energy of ‘Refraction’. Noelene Hill’s careful costumes, too, create some stunning imagery, such as that of Hannah Clark swathed in an upturned tutu in playful competition with Daniel Kempson in ‘Transference’.


“Muscle Memory” is Australian choreographed, composed, produced and performed art at its beautiful best. Its too-short season at The Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts offers an intimate and comparatively inexpensive opportunity to see the ballet stars of tomorrow that is simply tutu good to miss.

Photos c/o – FenLan Photography