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Ballet International Gala performed at QPAC, Brisbane. Photograph by Craig Ratcliffe Photography

Not All that Glitters is Solid Gold

The complicated premiere of Ballet International Gala

Performance
Ballet International Gala
Place
Playhouse, QPAC, Brisbane, Queensland, 28 January 2022
Words
Madelyn Coupe

At last, the highly anticipated Ballet International Gala (BIG) premiered to a very eager audience. Organised by Queensport Arts—a newly formed promotional company, headed by dancer/actor Joel Burke, and associates Beck Phillips, and Kahlid Tarabay—it showcased some of the most in-demand talent from across the globe live on the mainstage. Seeing the list of dancers slated to perform was quite astounding; not least because covid travel restrictions have, up until this point, have limited international access to the state. Skylar Brandt and Aran Bell from American Ballet Theatre; Shugyla Adepkhan and Bakhtiyar Adamzhan from Astana Opera; Alexander Campbell from the Royal Ballet were some of the well-known names. It also featured Mia Heathcote, Victor Estévez, Neneka Yoshida, and Patricio Revé from Queensland Ballet, plus Juliet Doherty and Burke from the upcoming drama series, The Red Shoes: The Next Step.

There were a few stand out performances, one being Brandt and Bell performing the iconic pas de deux from “Le Corsaire.” Together, the pair were pure brilliance. Brandt shone with vitality, and Bell lit up the stage with his swashbuckling strength. In addition to this performance, Brandt also danced the White Swan pas de deux with Campbell. The two jumped in last minute to fill the spot when Francesca Hayward and Caesar Corrales were unable to attend. It was wonderful to see the artistic depth that Brandt has to offer; tackling Medora and Odette on the same night required two very different approaches to the work, but Brandt made the transition appear seamless. Campbell brought charm and polish to the role of Siegfried, although it would have been nice to see talents utilised further. The full pas de deux (with the accompanying variations and coda) was performed from “Le Corsaire” but not from “Swan Lake”—an interesting choice.

Alexander Campbell and Skylar Brandt in pdd from “Swan Lake.” Photograph by Craig Ratcliffe Photography

Local talents also stood out next to these international giants. Heathcote and Estévez danced a beautifully heartbreaking pas de deux from “Romeo and Juliet.” The two star-crossed lovers were enthralling to watch. Their connection to the movement and one another is a testament to the way in which Heathcote and Estévez throw themselves into these characters—a dedication that is clearly seen onstage. Yoshida and Revé, then, performed the pas de deux from “La Bayadere.” Yoshida is one of the most superb technicians, and the grace she exudes while dancing is captivating. Revé was a stellar Solor; he brought his trademark cheek and raised left eyebrow to the performance. Again, however, the full pas from “La Bayadere” was performed but just a segment from “Romeo and Juliet.”

BIG set high expectations. It aimed to bring world-class artists together for an intimate set of performances. And, for an audience deeply deprived of the annual QPAC International Series (an initiative that has brought companies including Paris Opera Ballet, Bolshoi Ballet, and La Scala to Brisbane), the gala was a welcome feat. In reality, however, something was amuck.

Part of the problem lies in the messaging that surrounds the performance. BIG made a very vocal launch online. It utilised the social media juggernaut Instagram very well: they announced the artists performing, had dancers do daily takeovers, auditioned for their Little, BIG Ballerina (a children’s role who featured once in the opening and, in the end, had less than two minutes stage time). As a new initiative, this move was smart. It generated hype around the gala and saw people actively participate in the content that was being produced. Where it became problematic, however, was in the transition from digital to tangible. The spectacular and professional presence they created online failed to live up to the reality that they presented onstage.

Elements of the gala appeared very amateurish. There were awkward transitions between scenes, and the curtain for principal bows after each performance even though no one else was on stage seemed redundant. In one instance, the audience was left in a blackout for a couple of minutes while the crew removed instruments from the stage. After that, the crew were still visible, organising things in the wings, for at least half of the next performance. The dancers were utilised inconsistently, too. Some performed variations, whereas others were not given that opportunity. Dancers, like Burke and Doherty, performed multiple times but their technique fell short next to the might of artists like Campbell, Adepkhan, and Adamzhan who had less stage time. Even the smallest details of misspelling “Le Corsaire” in the programme contributed.

If the gala is to be renewed in the coming years, serious thought needs to be given as to the place it holds in the wider ballet landscape. Wanting to “reinvent the industry that is in dire need of a shake-up” is a commendable task—and there are many arguments as to why this should be done—but the physical work always needs to be the priority. The power and influence of international artists is enough to sell the idea of BIG to audiences but relying too heavily upon their star power alone is a complicated path to tread. Yes, there is potential here; but what this gala shows is that not all that glitters on Instagram is gold in reality. The time put into marketing and generating digital interest in BIG should have been redirected to defining the conceptual and artistic framework of the gala instead.