Joel Woellner and Mali Comlekci in “Biography” by Stephanie Lake. Photograph by David Kelly

Veiled Anonymity

Queensland Ballet's “Bespoke” contemporary triple bill

Performance
Queensland Ballet: “Bespoke” triple bill
Place
Talbot Theatre, Thomas Dixon Centre, Brisbane, Australia, July 26, 2022
Words
Madelyn Coupe

Once a year, Queensland Ballet stages “Bespoke,” the company’s main contemporary program. It presents three new works created by three different choreographers that experiment with the creative process. “Bespoke” holds a unique place in Queensland Ballet’s season. It acts as a platform that exposes audiences to a wider variety of works (ones that are not just classical). More importantly, however, it also allows us to witness the wide spectrum of abilities the company dancers have to offer—abilities that are, sometimes, overlooked when staging more traditional productions.

The night opened with “Tethered,” choreographed by Petros Treklis. The work inspired by the intermingling of two different pieces of art: the artworks by French expressionist painter Isabelle Vialle and the choral work “Miserere” by Henryk Górecki. What resulted from this intermingling was a sublime yet haunting performance, one that experimented with anonymity and the concept of our dark other selves.

Sophie Kerr in “Tethered” by Petros Treklis. Photograph by David Kelly

“Tethered” began with an empty stage. Sand slowly trickled down from the ceiling, creating a veil through which the audience cast their gaze. As the dancers entered, their bodies and faces were masked by shadows and black costumes that hid their identity. It was impossible to tell who was on stage, and who was dancing what. The dancers swarmed like a pack of creatures; their movements were controlled yet alien-like in nature. Combined with the sand that continued to envelop the floor, the scene looked as if it was placed on the planet of Arrakis or some other barren wasteland—one where individual autonomy was lost to the base instinct of herd survival.

One of the most refreshing aspects of “Tethered” was how it experimented with the idea of anonymity. Audiences are so used to immediately identifying dancers on stage—who they are, what rank they hold, and how they are expected to perform. In this case, the identity of the full cast was only revealed at curtain call. And, with great surprise, it predominately featured the young artists (dancers from Queensland Ballet’s apprentice program). The reveal tied in neatly with the overall message of Treklis’s work. Just as the young artists are learning to navigate their position as company dancers—and the known and unknown elements that accompany that journey—the audience, too, is learning who these dancers are and what they are capable off. From what was displayed with “Tethered”, they appear to be capable of a great deal. Credit goes to Joshua Ostermann, Sophie Kerr, and Edison Manuel whose talents were sublime. If they continued to develop and dance as they did on the night, these three appear to have bright futures ahead of them.

Dylan Lackey and Paige Rochester in “Biography” by Stephanie Lake. Photograph by David Kelly

Next, was Stephanie Lake’s “Biography”—a piece that made quite a thematic and conceptual shift. “Biography” was created in collaboration with the dancers. Their quirks and idiosyncrasies lay that the forefront of Lake’s process. Instead of presenting a cohesive whole, Lake staged a didactic performance made up of several separate segments. The link between the segments and overall interpretation was left up to the audience.

“Biography” lies at the opposite end of the spectrum to “Tethered.” Lake placed the identity and physicality of the dancer centre stage. The work showed how known bodies can move and operate in known and unfamiliar ways. In one segment, Lake subverts the known traditional dynamics of the pas de deux—not just in terms of gender but also in regard to dynamics and technique. The dancers explored the combative nature of working with a partner; the constant physical battle for dominance and control. They experimented with manipulating the body, both with and without manual touch. The non-harmonious movements created a tense and heart-racing atmosphere onstage. Sophie Zoricic and D’arcy Brazier were captivating to watch. They threw themselves into the performance and Lake’s choreography seemed to suit them very well.

Laura Tosar and Patricio Reve in “A Rhapsody in Motion” by Greg Horsman. Photography David Kelly

The evening wrapped with Greg Horsman’s “A Rhapsody in Motion.” The ballet piece explored the dancers’ relationship with emotion and performance. Horsman’s choreography leant into the rigidity of classical movement. Compared to Treklis and Lake’s works that heavily experimented with subverting classical tradition, “A Rhapsody in Motion” did sit awkwardly in the program; however, it was enjoyable to see the base technical talents that the Queensland Ballet dancers are known for. Neneka Yoshida, as always, was a dream to watch. Laura Tosar, who was promoted to soloist only a few days earlier, also was a delight.

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