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This truly 'mixed bill' starts tonight and, on the basis of yesterday's rehearsal (where there were additional cast changes!), it's going to be a terrific end to a wonderful Royal Ballet Season.
Queensland Ballet is presenting Liam Scarlett's Firebird right now, in late May 2018. The Australian Ballet presented Graeme Murphy's Firebird in March. Interesting programming, that. Queensland Ballet is presenting Ben Stephenson's Cinderella in September. TAB is presenting Ratmansky's Cinderella in November. Even more interesting programming. And in October, Queensland Ballet takes its party piece, Scarlett's Midsummer Night's Dream to Melbourne. Not Sydney, not Adelaide, but Melbourne. Home and bulwark of TAB. What do they say? Once is accident, twice is coincidence, three times is ... no, not enemy action, but action, certainly. A little context. In 2012, Queensland Ballet was a worthy provincial ballet company known for its dedication to taking ballet to regional centres throughout Queensland. In 2012, Li Cunxin, (Mao's Last Dancer Li Cunxin), was appointed Artistic Director. In 2013, he brought in Jenna Roberts from Birmingham Royal Ballet and Carolyn Judson, Texas Ballet Theatre, to help raise standards. In 2014, it was the big guns ... Carlos Acosta, Tamara Rojo and Steve Macrae (!!!), and in 2015 Alina Cojocaru. In 2016, Liam Scarlett became Artistic Associate and in 2017 Evgenia Obratzova of the Bolshoi replaced Alina Cojuocaru when she had to withdraw. (How does a small and insignificant provincial company attract such stellar names? Heaven only knows.) And this October, they're going to Melbourne. Looks remarkably like an announcement. 'We're here.' After Firebird, they are. Liam Scarlett's Firebird is unlike that of Fokine or even Murphy. It is not a battle between good and evil. At the heart of the work is the relationship between the firebird and Koschei. Both are powerful magical creatures, engaged in an eternal battle for dominance, but at the same time linked by a shared and profound sensuality. Laura Hidalgo's firebird is elemental, a force of nature; curious, inquisitive, intelligent. Koschei (Rian Thompson) is a far darker creature, one who expresses his power through sexual domination. Into their kingdom, blunders the Prince (Joel Woellner). The firebird is intrigued. The Prince is terrified. The fear and desperation to escape that the firebird exhibits in Fokine's original belongs here to the Prince, although he finally succombs to the firebird's curiosity and her sensuality. She leaves, but not before giving him a feather to summon her in case of need. From here, the story is more conventional. Koschei's enslaved maidens enter, together with the newly enslaved Princess. Prince and Princess fall in love (a beautiful, gentle pdd) before Koschei's creatures enter, followed by Koschei himself. A confrontation ensues, during which Koschei demonstrates his sexual domination, leading ultimately to the Prince summoning the firebird. Here the narrative deviates from tradition once again. The firebird does not fight Koschei; rather she causes him and his minions to fall asleep. She then shows the Prince the egg which conceals Koschei's soul. The Princess seizes and smashes the egg, thus killing Koschei. (This I think, was a total surprise to the firebird. She didn't understand humans at all ☺)The ballet ends with the firebird standing over Koschei's body, radiating grief. Laura Hidalgo as the firebird was utterly compelling, dominating the stage whenever she was on it. I could not take my eyes off her. Rian Thompson as Koschei came near to matching her, and together, these two created an utterly memorable evening. I wish I could say that Acosta's Carmen was similarly memorable. Perhaps it was, given that I thought at the beginning that I had mistakenly wondered into a performance of The Full Monty. The woman to my left fell asleep and snored loudly through most of the performance. The woman to my right turned to me after the final curtain and said, 'Well, that shows that great dancers are not necessarily great choreographers.' Just about says it all, really. But The Firebird demonstrates that we now have two serious classical ballet companies in Australia. Alleluia.
With Christmas only a few days, the Royal Ballet starts ... a triple bill. Please discuss it here (did anyone see the general rehearsal, or wasn't it an open one?)