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Dangerous Liaisons, Liam Scarlett, Queensland Ballet


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The drought is over. Well, the metaphoric ballet drought is over. The real drought still has much of western NSW in its grip. In fact, the parents of my nephew's partner (is there a word for that?), from Wagga in the west, were in Sydney a couple of weeks ago during a particularly heavy rainstorm. And they just sat on my sister's balcony, watching and listening to the rain. Nearly broke my heart. But the ballet drought ... nothing from December to March, is over. And given the heaviness and sadness of the last 10 days, it's a real relief. Thank god it was Liam Scarlett's Dangerous Liaisons. If it were his Swan Lake, I don’t think I could have taken Seigfried holding the lifeless body of Odette. But it wasn't Swan Lake. It was Dangerous Liaisons. Dangerous Liaisons is the first work that Scarlett has created on the Queensland Ballet: and this only 6 years since Li Cunxin took over an insignificant little provincial company.  My admiration for Li Cunxin is boundless! As Michelle Potter, an influential critic, stated, QB is a national treasure.

Anyway, as I'm sure you know, Dangerous Liaisons is about Sex. And sex. And sex. The audience gets a foretaste of what's to come when the curtain rises on the funeral of the husband of Madam de Merteuil,  the female protagonist. The guests leave and Madam de Merteuil has it off with the Compte de Gercourt, her lover, right there on the coffin. The first night audience gasped and laughed ... nervous laughter if ever I've heard it. The audience the following night was rather more blase,  but it was a shock. Things went on from there. First night I gave up trying to follow who was doing what to whom, but second viewing gave me more of a handle on the plot. The dancing was extraordinary as Valmont (Alexander Idaszak) tossed and threw Merteuil (Laura Hidalgo) around in what can only be described as desperate, vicious sex. The contrast with the calm, restrained PDD as Cecile (Yanela Pinera) and Danceny  (Rian Thompson) fall in love was striking. Apart from the dancers, however, mention must be made of Tracy Grant Lord's costumes. The nobility dressed in sumptuous costumes which became a vital aspect of the dance as they billowed, flashing vividly coloured underwear, before being ruthlessly crushed. The young and innocent dressed in whites, creams and pastels, gentle creations that served to underline the fluidity and purity of line of their dance. As Madam de Merteuil, Laura Hidalgo was mesmerising; imperious, utterly immoral and utterly sure of her right to command. Every gesture, every step expressed her complete and vicious self-absorption. 

Music is by Saint-Saens, and Martin Yates, the arranger, characterises what he did as plunder Saint-Saens' work. Each character is associated with a musical theme (something which really helps distinguish who's who) but these are woven into a rich orchestral score which sounds as if it were created ab initio for the work.

Overall, Liam Scarlett has created a lasting and extraordinary work, richly textured, a work which tells a complex and difficult story succinctly and clearly, if you take the time to absorb the many strands that make up the tale. 

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Lucky lucky you @jmb...but did anyone hold the carpark lift open for you? 😉 I really hope they bring it to Melbourne as they did with Scarlett's Dream - I'm off to Perth in May for WA Ballet's La Bayadère and hope to report on that.

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