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Queensland Ballet: Scarlett's Firebird and Acosta's Carmen

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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.

 

 

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Chi Cao, who played adult Li in the film (wonderfully well IMHO) has also guested with Queensland Ballet.

 

Thanks for the report jmb.

 

There's lots of interest to interest British ballet fans - Mary (McKendry) LI is ex-LFB (and was my first ever Giselle), Janette Mulligan is ex-LFB, Amy Hollingsworth is ex-Rambert and Music Director Nigel Gaynor is ex-NB.

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I was fortunate to attend this production and agree that Laura Hidalgo and Rian Thompson were both fabulous. I was pleasantly surprised by Scarlett's choreography and combined with the set design, costumes and music it was a memorable experience. I also thought Mia Heathcote and Joel Woellner danced with beautiful artistry.    

It was such a shame that Carmen was disappointing in comparison. I thought it started well with some humorous choreography albeit raunchy but I too fell asleep (I don't think I snored!) as it sort of petered out, a shame as Bizet's music is wonderful. To me it highlighted the difference choreography makes.

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Deborah Jones has a review in The Australian, that normally works on a Premium basis.  I could read it via a Google page but not from here.  So, for anyone who can get it:

https://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/stage/carmen-the-firebird-an-afternoon-of-stunning-contrasts/news-story/af4e673b83412504a8871741aa2471db

 

She did not care for Acosta's Carmen!

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Deborah Jones has a blog and uploads an expanded version of her reviews several days after they have appeared in the Murdoch press. If you are interested in reading her scathing assessment of Carmen and her very flattering take on The Firebird, here is a link to her blog:

https://deborahjones.me

Apart from its dissection of Carmen, she reports on The Firebird in glowing terms, and the cast was not that that I saw. Speaks to the depth of talent at QB.

Edited by jmb
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Thanks jmb.

 

I saw the Carmen at RB and, according to what I wrote at the time I enjoyed some of it but thought it should have been about 30 minutes long.  I saw Tierney Heap with Vadim Muntagirov and Matthew Ball was Escamilo.

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Thank you for the reports, jmb and Lucinda.  It's always good to hear what's going on outside the UK.

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I do sympathise with the Australian critic though.  Acosta's Carmen is a memory I really wish I could eradicate, particularly the 'Chippendales' moment.  i think Equity should have intervened to protect the dancers - I bet most of them would like to forget it too.

 

Linda

 

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8 hours ago, loveclassics said:

I do sympathise with the Australian critic though.  Acosta's Carmen is a memory I really wish I could eradicate, particularly the 'Chippendales' moment.  i think Equity should have intervened to protect the dancers - I bet most of them would like to forget it too.

 

Linda

 

Great post, Love Classics!  I made myself stay to the end and then wished I'd caught an earlier train.  It was an abomination and should be laid quietly to rest.

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