A Classic Celebration

Alice in Wonderland

Beauty is Difficult


Don Quixote

International Gala 2012

The Laramie Project


The Mikado

Transient Beauty

Two Gentlemen of Verona

Vis-a-Vis Studio Series Queensland's Online Stage Magazine
Earlier reviews

Transient Beauty  
Collusion (Byron Bay Community Theatre)

This challenging modern ballet finds moments of transient beauty amidst the dross and angst of domestic conflict.

The intimate space of the Byron Theatre puts the dancers and the musicians up close and personal with the audience. In your face, it is. In your mind, it gets.

The love of a housebound separated mother (Janette Mulligan) for her children (Rachael Walsh and Melissa Tattam) wanting to leave the nest is a force of nature akin to storm and tempest.

A home is set on stage by a simple plan of white tape on the floor. A single doorframe seems to be held in place by blu-tack. When this work was performed earlier this year at the Brisbane Powerhouse it had more elaborate lighting but the Byron simplicity works just fine.

Gareth Belling's choreography tells a story of strict control, alienation and rapprochement. At least that is what your reviewer guesses for the program notes are cryptic. Some modern choreographers are reluctant to tell the story in the medium of words lest the fertile kinetic imagination of the audience be fettered. On the other hand, some of us mug punters like to know the yarn behind the movement.

In program notes with Collusion director and violin player, Benjamin Greaves, Belling expresses it in these terms: Glimpses of beauty always exist between those re-constructing their lives amid turmoil, anguish and loss. Without an understanding of suffering, the value of love, ecstasy and companionship too often goes unnoticed. Transient Beauty explores conflict, sorrow and finally the unison of experience. We all deep down understand the transience of one anotherÕs emotions. It really is beautiful.

Belling has the good fortune to have secured the services of the Queensland Ballet's outstanding prima ballerina, Rachael Walsh, for this production. She displays not only technical virtuosity but also emotional subtlety and range — an extraordinary dancer and actor in one. Belling is a lucky man to have both Walsh and Mulligan in his array of dancers.

Walsh dances beautifully with her "mother", Janette Mulligan, former senior principal of the English National Ballet just as a cello sweeps in to enrich the spare tones of the piano keyboard. There is something austere about their interaction — strained with tension, yet hinting at a larger dimension. Walsh has an uncanny ability to express the constrained discipline within the house as well as the abashing fear of freedom beyond it. She interacts on a park bench outside with the separated father/voice of experience (Gareth Belling) in a way which bridges the gap between estranged members of the family.

Melissa Tattam (the younger daughter) impresses with vigour and feeling but perhaps without the emotional depth demonstrated by the more experienced Walsh and Mulligan. She embodies the raw energy of youth.

Composer and musical director Susan Hawkings has created an engaging soundscape for this modern drama. The five musicians (piano, violin, cello, clarinet and percussion) perform barefoot with occasional interactions such as between the violin player, Benjamin Greaves, and the dancer/choreographer, Gareth Bellings. This interplay is novel but limited. It has the germ of a good idea without fully blossoming.

Similarly the choreography provides a good deal of angst with but a modicum of dramatic relief. Perhaps life does not fit into the ready framework of theatrical catharsis but more light and shade would give greater texture to this work.

It is exciting to see the creation of new dance and music. Choreographer Gareth Belling and composer Susan Hawkings are to be commended for having delivered a work which expresses the human condition in unexpected and enlarging ways. Cultural life would atrophy without such fearless explorations of the boundaries of loneliness, family life and affection.

This ambitious work sparkles with the bedazzling genius of Rachael Walsh and Janette Mulligan. They transport the audience for a moment into an ethereal beauty hidden inside even the most dysfunctional of relationships.

Choreographer: Gareth Belling
Composer: Susan Hawkings
Music performed by Collusion
Production designer: Anthony Spinaze
Lighting designer: Ben Hughes

— Matt Foley

(Performance seen: 3rd November 2012)
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A Classical Celebration  
Queensland Ballet (Lyric Theatre)

This celebration of excerpts from classical ballets is an exquisite treat for audiences and a fitting last hurrah for Queensland Ballet's Francois Klaus, after 15 years as artistic director.

The curtain rises to the luxurious rhythms of a Strauss waltz. The preternatural Rachael Walsh joins with Keian Langdon to whirl the spirit through the many delights of the evening.

We soon find ourselves in La Sylphide where the Sylph (Meng Ningning) and James (Hao Bin) lead the corps de ballet and the professional year dancers through the forest scene.

The performance is far from predictable. The irrepressible Teri Crilly with a smile brighter than the morning star treats us to Neopolitan from Swan Lake in a boisterous cafˇ scene.

After interval a more classical approach to Swan Lake is apparent with elegant, moving performances by Clare Morehen as Odette and Hao Bin as Siegfried.

No program of this sort would be complete without the pathos of the dying swan, danced beautifully by Meng Ningning to the haunting music of Camille-Saint-Saens.. The evening is made extra special by an inspired performance of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra directed by Craig Allister Young. It is hard to beat a real harp playing TchaikovskyÕs evocative music to Swan Lake.

The evening concludes with an elemental performance by Rachael Walsh of The Little Mermaid, danced to the music of Johann Sebastian BachÕs Air in G. All members of the company perform in plain white costumes against a stark, dark background to the pure ecstasy of Bach's music. The dancers move forward in formation. The music stops. They continue their approach to the audience, dancing in silence for several spellbinding moments. Is there something in the core and nature of human life which propels the dance even without music? As the poet Yeats asked: "Oh bodies swayed to music, Oh brightening glance,/ How shall we know the dancer from the dance?"

A deep artistic power is abroad in this company. Francois Klaus has left a spirited legacy for his successor Li Cunxin, MaoÕs last dancer, now Queensland Ballet's latest artistic director.

Artistic director: Francois Klaus
Set designer: Graham McLean
Lighting designer: Ben Hughes
Costume designer: Noelene Hill

— Matt Foley

(Performance seen: 31st October 2012)
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Opera Queensland (Lyric Theatre)

An energetic and fast-moving production, this Carmen is among the best to have been seen in Brisbane.

Kristin Chavez sings, acts and dances a very earthy Carmen, whose sensual allure is obvious. She rarely misses a beat in singing robustly while giving a most physical performance. She succeeds in projecting the complexities of Carmen's character — her love of freedom, sense of sexual power and ultimate superstitious fatalism.

Her male admirers match her talent. Konstantin Andreiev sings a beautiful tenor while pleading for Carmen's love (and convincingly acting his character Don Jose's descent into crazed and dangerous obsession). As the toreador Escamillo, Jose Carbo proves to be a marvellous anchor, singing with richness while conveying all the swagger of the role. In the smaller part of the officer who pursues Carmen, Andrew Collis is consistently excellent.

Lecia Robertson gives a touchingly sweet performance as the country girl Micaela, singing beautiful arias and duets with Andreiev.

The production is from Covent Garden via Opera Australia. Francesca Zambello's staging and direction involves endless action and movement, with crowds busily swirling around and interacting with key characters. (Interestingly, when one expects a reappearance of the masses at the conclusion, she very effectively leaves Carmen to die alone.) Revival director Matthew Barclay with assistant Brendan Ross have marshalled their considerable forces well, with more than 60 on stage at times, all actively engaged in the drama - soldiers, cigarette factory girls, gypsies, smugglers, bullfighters and the dozen ragamuffins: the child choristers are splendid performers.

My only quibble is that the hideaway in the mountains is rather too crowded a scene, although the abseiling display is great to behold. Tanya McCallin's design and gorgeous costumes wonderfully evoke Seville, especially the opening courtyard scene.

Emily Burke and Sally-Anne Russell are vivacious gypsies in the tavern and card-reading scenes, while Guy Booth as soldier and Shaun Brown and Bradley Daley as smugglers give strong vocal support. Leisa Barry-Smith sultrily characterises the tavern-keeper Lillas Pastia, made famous in Carmen's Act I aria.

Colin Alexander has put in place the subtle lighting design of Paule Constable, including interesting gloomy scenes where the use of shadows is particularly effective.

Conductor Emmanual Joel-Hornak maintains a nice fast tempo with a strong Queensland Orchestra — sometimes a little too fast for the soloists, who are physically hard-worked on stage above the pit. The chorus give a lusty sound that suits the drama, while the flamenco dancers add real flair.

— John Henningham

(Performance seen: 30th October 2012)
Details of this show  |  Back to Top Queensland's Online Stage Magazine
International Gala 2012  
Queensland Ballet (QPAC Playhouse)

The International Gala of the Queensland Ballet annually brings overseas stars to perform with local dancers for a special event. This year has the added piquancy of being the fifteenth and final Gala created by retiring artistic director Francois Klaus.

Natalie Kusch, brilliant soloist of the Vienna State Opera Ballet, performs the Bluebird pas de deux from Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty with Queensland Ballet dancer, Yu Hui. This magnificent performance of Tchaikovsky's work symbolises the bringing together of the global and the local.

It is especially pleasing to see the performances of successful graduates of the Queensland Ballet's Professional Year, a training program created and co-ordinated by artistic associate Robyn White. One such graduate is Chantelle Kerr, a soloist at Semperoper Ballet, Dresden, who dances a pas de deux from New Sleep with John Vallego, choreographed by William Forsythe to the music of Thom Villems.

Principal dancer Rachel Walsh dances beautifully with Piran Scott in the Act 3 pas de deux from Romeo and Juliet, choreographed by Francois Klaus to the music of Sergei Prokofiev.

Collaboration with and encouragement of local artists have been hallmarks of Klaus's time with the Queensland Ballet. This Gala showcases the work of another Professional Year graduate, Gareth Belling, who has created Bittersweet for this Gala with Brisbane-based quartet the Four Elements, playing the music of Vivaldi.

Daniel Gaudiello of the Australian Ballet teams up with Natalie Kusch of the Vienna State Opera Ballet to perform the grand pas de deux from Le Corsaire. with costumes designed by the Vienna State Opera Ballet and the Australian Ballet.

Gifted local didgeridoo artist William Barton provides the inspiration for Timeless Dancers choreographed by Francois Klaus. This piece celebrates the great musical tradition of Aboriginal Australia within the international language of dance.

This International Gala is a spectacle of brief but delightful pieces. It exemplifies the creativity and nurturing which Klaus and White have brought to the Queensland Ballet over the past decade and a half.

Artistic direction: Francois Klaus

Performances: 3-5 August 2012

— Matt Foley

(Performance seen: 3rd August, 2012)
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Two Gentlemen of Verona  
Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble (Roma St Parkland)

With a spring in its step, the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble forges a faithful and playful path through one of Shakespeare's little-performed, earliest romantic comedies.

The good news for everyone from Shakespeare-phobes to devotees is that this Westernised — as in cowboy — production is mostly lighthearted entertainment, occasionally similar to Romeo & Juliet but with little of its angst. Dog lovers will be happy too, of which more later.

Although the first Act takes a little while to warm up, the evening quickly begins to rollick along thereafter.

Initially, the two Gentlemen, Valentine and Proteus, are bound by close friendship; but while romance cynic Valentine wants adventure, Proteus is paralysed by his love for Julia. After travelling to the Duke of Milan's territory, though, Valentine himself falls in love, with the Duke's daughter Silvia.

Meanwhile, Proteus follows Valentine, instructed by his father to see something of the world; he arrives instead to see Silvia and fall for her despite his parting promises to Julia. As the comedy takes on a shadowy tinge, Proteus undermines Valentine.

Everyone's deceptions catch up with them in the end, and director Rob Pensalfini fashions a thought-provoking finale which reflects that the men of the title have not been so unwaveringly gentle after all.

The production's Western theme, which includes QSE's customary live music, grounds the action and characters nicely. While Micheal Croome affects a credibly low-key Southern burr in his cattle baron take on the the Duke of Milan, other cast members sensibly stick with their natural accents (memorable interludes with campy bandidos aside). Performances are lively and, generally, poised; Claire Pearson is especially fine as Valentine's clownish servant Speed.

The undisputed star of the show, though, is QSE artistic director Rob Pensalfini's pet dog Gumnut in the part of Crabbe. As companion to Proteus's roguish servant Launce (Pensalfini as onstage master too), this Crabbe belies his master's berating of him by being irresistibly attentive and cuddly.

As gorgeous as he is, Gumnut risks being typecast after this triumphant stage debut and so should look to broaden his range. Can gorgeous dogs discover an inner viciousness in the name of Art? Should they have to? Only Rob Pensalfini — and perhaps the RSPCA — can judge.

— Nick Howard

(Performance seen: 17th August 2012)
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Beauty is Difficult  
heartBeast theatre ensemble (Trinity Hall. Church St, Fortitude Valley)

Socrates once said "Beauty is a short-lived tyranny". Two and a half thousand years later, in 2012, beauty remains difficult, at least according to artistic director Michael Beh.

Beauty is Difficult is a low-budget collaboration with strong production values. Featuring an ensemble cast brought together by the heartBeast Theatre Company, the narrative follows the lives of four eponymous femmes fatales of classical literature: Anna Karenina, Emma Bovary, Hedda Gabler and Phedre.

Mrs Danvers or "Danni" conducts an ethereal and puppeteer-like role throughout each of the individual narratives. The company has employed a charming but minimalist stage set with a focus on visual style. The individual narratives draw heavily from their source material.

In trying to bring together each of the story lines through the medium of a memory play, artistic director Michael Beh has created a mishmash of character development and storytelling that doesn't sit together quite perfectly — an inherent problem when combining epic narratives such as these. It is a credit to the performers just how well they keep this together.

Given the nature of the characters, this performance also has the innate problem of unexplored story lines. But these small issues do not dull one's overall enjoyment of the show.

The four protagonists have equal stage time but two are of note in their renditions. Karen Dinsdale's performance of Emma Bovary is an absolute stage stealer. Seemingly all too happy to explore and unlock her inner vixen she has beaming charisma and an imploring stage presence. Anna O'Hara's performance of Anna Karenina is also commendable. While missing the same intense emotional fervour that characterises Dinsdale's performance, O'Hara brings an emotional pathos in the performance of her namesake.

The supporting cast also perform admirably, with special note going to the performances of Hamish Nicholson and Jason Ward Kennedy.

Beh has an attractive visual style, setting a melancholic feel and allowing each actress to explore the persona of their character, bringing about some fantastic and genuinely memorable performances. The use of space within the church hall venue, with its thin but deep stage, was done in engaging fashion.

A number of central themes weave through each story. An invisible mirror, which unlocks a vain quality within the characters, is used throughout. Rampant sexual politics is another recurrent motif. Perhaps the most exciting and progressive theme of the production though is the undetermined and improvised feature of the ending. Without giving too much away, it was pleasing to discover the nature of the finale.

Director/designer: Michael Beh
Costume designer: Janice Mandrusiak
Lighting designer: Grant Morrison
Production manager: Gregg Goriss
Stage manager: Joanna Lam

Based on an original idea by Michael Beh drawing on excerpts from "Anna Karenina" by Leo Tolstoy, "Hedda Gabbler"by Henrik Ibsen, "Madame Bovary" by Gustave Flaubert, "Phedre" by Jean Racine and "Rebecca" by Daphne Du Maurier.

— Bartholomew Foley

(Performance seen: 8th July 2012)
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The Mikado  
Opera Queensland (Conservatorium Theatre)

Sublime silliness, melodiously misanthropic and cheerfully absurd: such is the essence of The Mikado. It's an essence fully captured by Opera Queensland in their lively new production of this Gilbert and Sullivan classic.

Musically, the production at South Bank's Conservatorium Theatre sounds spot-on perfect. Always accessible and often extremely catchy, Sullivan's score is at the same time emotionally complex and, within the unpretentious parameters it set for itself, aesthetically sophisticated.

It is fitting then that the operetta should open and close with conductor Brian Castles-Onion. The overture about to start, his spotlighted head suddenly bobs up out of the orchestra pit. Some three hours later, following the thunderous full-cast finale and the last curtain call, he "silly walks" onto the stage looking super-cool, and almost makes off with the show.

In the demanding role of Ko-Ko the Lord High Executioner of Titipu, accomplished stage actor Eugene Gilfedder gives a standout performance, the campy intimacy he establishes with the audience reminiscent of the late British comedian Frankie Howerd. Often speaking his songs in a roguish sort of voice rather than singing them in the technical sense, as a knockabout clown Gilfedder is superlative, his comic timing impeccable. (And when he does sing, his intonation is not bad at all.)

Updates to the libretto work well. References to Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, Courier-Mail reviewers and "climate change denialists" lend some topical spice to Gilfedder's first musical number as he mischievously works his way through a list of those "who would not be missed" were they to be executed. The Act II showpiece number "A more humane Mikado", sung powerfully by a gleefully malicious bass-baritone Richard Anderson as the emperor of Japan, is likewise peppered with contemporary allusions. Satirical targets are no less abundant now than when The Mikado was first performed in 1885.

Contralto Adele Johnston plays an impressively, some would say fearsomely, bosomed Katisha. Her Act II duet with Ko-Ko ("There is beauty in the bellow of the blast") is a superb piece of theatre, combining singing, dancing, mime and dazzling athleticism. That Gilbert's lyrics were heartlessly mocking the romantic delusions of a plain-looking, middle-aged woman tended to get lost in the overwhelming exuberance of the moment.

Tenor Dominic Walsh and soprano Kristy Swift sing beautifully as hero Nanki-Poo and heroine Yum-Yum, although their voices don't always carry as well in the spoken dialogue, especially in contrast with Gilfedder's classically trained actor's voice. But they certainly outshine him in the singing department, and each sings a memorable solo in addition to ensemble pieces.

The singing is also of high quality from baritones Andrew Moran as Pooh-Bah and Jason Barry-Smith as Pish-Tush, although they are more understated as actors than is common in these roles. Excellent support comes from Emily Burke and Deborah Rogers as Yum-yum's companions, while the 15-strong chorus of gentlemen and ladies perform very well physically and musically. Choreographer Siobhan Ginty gives them all much fascinating movement to work with.

Designer Simone Romaniuk's sets and costumes in Act II seemed generally more colourful and imaginative than those in Act I, although the Lolita-like sailor suits and long socks of the female chorus in Act I are certainly a bold bit of costuming. The opening scene of Act II — with its massive floor-to-gantry panel of oversized cherry blossoms — make good use of the vast space above the stage, which, when left unfilled, has the effect of dwarfing the performers.

The wigs are unapologetically outrageous: glossy black ones for the male chorus, bouncy blonde curls for the female. Intentional anachronisms and incongruities abound; Pish-Tush for example wears a three-piece suit along with a tartan kilt. This is a production well aware of the sheer nuttiness of it all.

Siobhan Ginty's choreography is splendid, together with director Stuart Maunder's overall concept.

In all, director Stuart Maunder and Opera Queensland have put together a hugely entertaining show. This was genuine Gilbert and Sullivan — tongue-in-cheek and exhilaratingly insane.

(The Mikado's Brisbane season from 7th to 28th July at the Conservatorium Theatre is followed by a regional tour from 4th to 16th August, with performances at the Gold Coast, Toowoomba, Maryborough, Rockhampton, Mackay and Townsville.)

— Ian Besomo

(Performance seen: 28th July 2012 [APRX.])
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Don Quixote  
QPAC Playhouse

The magnificent madness of Don Quixote speaks to the crazy romantic in us all. At a time when public discourse is so formulaic it is refreshing to join the errant knight in his quest to help people in need.

This Queensland Ballet production takes us in and out of the mind of this funny old man who dares to dream.

Artistic director and choreographer Francois Klaus, uses the device of a film set where the ballet "Don Quixote" is being filmed. The dancer playing the title role (Blair Wood) falls asleep after the day's work and dreams of his own Dulcinea (danced finely by Lisa Edwards). Blair Wood dances a passionate and evocative lead role, ably assisted by Keian Langdon as Sancho Panza. Langdon plays this comedic role subtly, eliciting comic relief but never ridicule. Langdon as Sancho Panza displays loyalty towards his master despite his incomprehension of his master's ways.

A radical choice of music takes the audience into the Quixotic dream and the concepts behind it. Dvorak's "New World" Symphony is used to great effect in Act 1. In a sublime sequence, the female dancers of the corps de ballet become Demoiselles transported by the largo second movement of Dvorak's symphony. Your hard-bitten reviewer was moved to the brink of tears by the womanly beauty of this dream-like piece. It somehow expresses the noble quest of this addlepated knight.

The role of Kitri is danced with virtuosity by Meng Ningning. She executes the famous 32 fouettes en tournant to the enthusiastic delight of the audience.

Rachael Walsh gives a richly textured performance as the peasant woman angered, bemused then moved by Don Quixote's mistaking her for Dulcinea.

The second act flits through scenes of the film set, Don Quixote's dream, a nightclub and the street. Sadly, it loses its way like Coleridge's interrupted dream in "Kubla Khan". The second half does not recapture the magic of the initial dream as the visionary rubs against the streetwise.

This thoughtful production remains however a beautiful glimpse into the value of a little psychosis in human affairs.

Choreography: Francois Klaus
Music by Ludwig Minkus, Johann Pachelbel, Anton Dvorak, Tomaso Albinoni, Astor Piazzolla and Isaac Albeniz
Performances: 19 May to 2 June 2012 Duration: 2 hours and 25 minutes (including a 20-minute interval)

— Matt Foley

(Performance seen: 25th May 2012)
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Vis-a-Vis Studio Series  
Queensland Ballet (Thomas Dixon Centre)

Close and creative — that is the theme of this intimate series in the rehearsal studio of the Queensland Ballet.

Audience members have a privileged chance to sit inside the studio space while the choreography and ideas behind a specific dance scene are explained and then performed. Take, for example, the village wedding scene from the ballet "Peer Gynt" to the music of Edvard Greig. We are treated to the transcendent beauty of the pas de deux of Solveig (Rachael Walsh) and Peer Gynt (Keian Langdon) against a background of the more rudimentary steps danced by villagers members in their nuptial celebrations.

It can be dangerous to see behind the mask of art to the artifice sustaining it but no disappointment lies here. We sit close enough to see not only the apparently effortless lifting and carrying by Langdon of Walsh in their partnering but also the subtle balance and timing of Walsh floating beyond the mechanical pull of gravity.

The theme of "nurturing creativity" is exemplified in works choreographed by current and former dancers of the Queensland Ballet.

"Nara", a work choreographed by company dancer Teri Crilly, takes us on a thought-provoking, all-female dance expressing hints of worship and the spiritual.

Teri Crilly has long been noted for her comic flair but it is pleasing to see the development of this dimension of her dance career. She also dances the opening piece, the grand pas de deux from Act 2 of Don Quixote with exuberance and grace along with Yu Hui who seems a little less confident in his role.

Love's delights and angst inspire newly choreographed works by former dancers Martin Collyer ("Winter/Spring") and Rosetta Cook ("Love Remains"). In the former work, a woman (Lina Kim) performs two pas de deux using the same movement vocabulary to portray very different scenes — a bleak wintery scene with Nathan Scicluna and a joyous spring scene with Guy Wheatsone. She achieves this challenging contrast admirably.

Rosetta Cook's work weaves the lyrical strains of Beethoven's Adagio Violin Sonata No 6 around a woman (Kathleen Doody) moving to reconcile the three loves of her life (Robert McMillan, Nathan Scicluna and Rian Thompson).

The dancers seem to thrive on performing original new works choreographed by their current and former dancing colleagues. Whatever the mystic source of nurturing creativity may be, it appears alive and well amongst the inspired young men and women of the Queensland Ballet.

Artistic director Fran¨ois Klaus gives a short spoken introduction to each piece, putting it into the context of the great choreographers, their respective ballet companies and the development of ideas in dance. His description of his own choreographic ideas behind Don Quixote and Peer Gynt give an insight into the link between ideas and movements.

His work "Maud's Musings" is an around-the-kitchen-table domestic skirmish between a drunken husband (Blair Wood) and his harried wife Maud (Clare Morehen) trying to stop his boozing. By theatrical magic Clare Morehen appears shortly afterwards to give an equally strong performance in the glamorous role of Kitri in the marketplace scene from Act 1 of Don Quixote. The contrast illustrates that dance is a vehicle for expressing the whole gamut of the human condition, not merely its safe and pastel hues.

This studio series has minimal sets and lighting. It will not suit those who crave lavish, packaged productions. Its intimate setting and explication will be scintillating for those who wrestle with the question posed by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, "How shall we know the dancer from the dance?".

Choreography: Fran¨ois Klaus, Martin Collyer, Teri Crilly and Rosetta Cook
Music by Ludwig Minkus, Edvard Greig, Ezio Bosso, E.S. Posthumus, Tomaso Albinoni, Chris Barner's Jazzband and Ludwig van Beethoven.
Performances: 27 April to 5 May 2012
Duration: 2 hours and 20 minutes (including a 20 minute interval)

— Matt Foley

(Performance seen: 28th April 2012)
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Earlier reviews

Opera Queensland (QPAC Concert Hall)

To perform the Scottish Play on Friday 13th seemed a risky enterprise, but good fortune smiled on this production of Verdi's early opera version of Shakespeare's great tragedy.

Staged in the Queensland Performing Arts Centre's concert hall, next door to Opera Queensland's usual Lyric Theatre home (where Annie was entertaining the masses), it was billed as a concert performance. This raised visions of soloists taking it in turns to stand stolidly at rostrums reading their scores, after the manner of a religious oratorio.

And indeed it is a concert setting, with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra on full display, with chorus above and behind.

But it is not in an opera company's DNA to forego a bit of drama, so it is a pleasant surprise to see the principals interacting, moving about on the stage and even flourishing daggers. They all sing from memory as do the chorus. Surtitles are an unexpected bonus.

Moreover, lighting designer Andrew Meadows provides some nice effects, with flashes of lightning as well as various levels of gloom plus effective spotlighting, including that of a spectral Banquo appearing in the balcony to torment a crazed Macbeth.

And the upside of a concert performance is the scale of the musical output. To have a full symphony orchestra on stage (rather than a subset secreted in the pit) makes for a full and glorious sound, well directed in this production by Nicholas Braithwaite. Verdi's music is loudly dramatic, and the brass and percussion work is particularly memorable. Especially pleasing is Thomas Allely's work on the cimbasso (of the trombone family).

Not only that, but a chorus of more than 50 talented signers, well prepared by Narelle French, add robustly to the musical feast.

Of the principals, baritone Michael Lewis is a convincing Macbeth, perhaps strained in the first act but vocally warming into a powerful warrior overtaken by madness. As the magnificently costumed Lady Macbeth, soprano Elizabeth Whitehouse sings her highly dramatic role with confidence and strength.

Bass Andrew Collis is compelling as the betrayed Banquo, his voice rich and textured. Bulgarian tenor Kaludi Kaludow projects a beautifully sonorous tone as the heroic Macduff. He and fellow tenor Virgilio Marino as Malcolm sing a touching duet. Mezzo Emily Burke (also well-attired) gives great support as lady-in-waiting, as does Guy Booth as the doctor.

The opera as a whole is an interesting experience for those more familiar with Verdi's greatest works, such as La traviata and Il trovatore. Musically it is not as satisfying as later operas, but the Verdian techniques and motifs are all apparent.

The opera is particularly good in emphasising, as does Shakespeare, the manifest evil which flows from the central characters' ambition. The Opera Queensland team do well in bringing out this theme, with powerful ensemble work at key dramatic moments.

This strong and lusty performance is a great contribution to Brisbane musical life.

— John Henningham

(Performance seen: 13th April 2012)
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Alice in Wonderland  
Queensland Ballet (Playhouse, QPAC)

Students of logic, like young children, have a marvellous grasp of the absurd. So it was with Oxford University logician Lewis Carroll whose Alice in Wonderland is performed by the Queensland Ballet as an explosion of life, colour and delight.

The result is a helter-skelter journey through seemingly crazy images which somehow have a coherent logic through the persona of Alice, danced magnificently by young Bianca Scudamore.

The Company was brave to have such a major role performed by a child but the result is as expert as it is charming. Scudamore takes us on an adventure where we meet the fascinating characters of Lewis Carroll's world. The ballet world is bound to see much more of this gifted dancer.

Always animated, always rushing to make up time, the White Rabbit (Teri Crilly) fills the stage with energy. Crilly's comic genius hustles us along as the clock ticks oh-so-quickly. The timing and grace of her dance are captivating.

The Doormouse (Gemma Pearce) is a lovable character, always on the brink of falling asleep. Pearce brings a sense of timid mischief to this role. She was a hit with the many children in the matinee audience which your reviewer attended.

The bad-tempered Duchess (Rachael Walsh) creates dramatic tension with the eccentric cook (Keian Langdon). Walsh dances superbly in this unusual role, thereby demonstrating once again the remarkable versatility of this artist.

We are taken in the story through the regular cavalcade of characters. The Queen of Hearts (Kathleen Doody) is forever calling "Off with their heads!" while the King of Hearts (Gareth Belling) scoffs the tarts but lets Alice take the rap. We are also treated to a range of decidedly odd characters Tweedledum (Robert McMillan) and Tweedledee (Rian Thompson), Humpty Dumpty (Joseph Stewart), the Mad Hatter (Blair Wood, not the MP for Kennedy), the White Knight (Yu Hui), and many others.

The eclectic choice of music adds to the exuberant unpredictability of the production. The music Benjamin Britten is juxtaposed to the "Jamaican Rhumba" of Arthur Benjamin, followed shortly by Gymnopedie No. 3 of Erik Satie. Somehow this jumble sale of musical extracts works. Even Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumble-bee" bumbles its way into the mix.

This is a production designed for children aged from 4 to 104. Follow the energetic buzz of Teri Crilly's White Rabbit and don't be late.

Choreography and director: Fran¨ois Klaus
Set and costume designer: Richard Jeziorny
Lighting designer: Glenn Hughes
Performances: 31 March to 14 April 2012 Duration: 2 hours with 1 interval (20 minutes)

— Matt Foley

(Performance seen: 31st March 2012)
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The Laramie Project  
Nash Theatre, New Farm

If there is one thing director of The Laramie Project Dan Lane has done well it is making sure the audience knows this is a true story.

Written by Moises Kaufman and the members of Tectonic Theatre Project in New York, this is a documentary-style play, full of monologues directed straight at the audience. The actors constantly break the fourth wall and it is always made clear to the audience which Laramie residents the actors are playing.

We are able to observe all that is traditionally supposed to go on backstage, such as costume changing. This creates an effective and perhaps much-needed parallel between reality now and reality then.

I doubt I have ever made so much eye contact with performers before — it truly felt like I was a part of the the play rather than just a spectator. When Daren King as Dr Rulon Stacey comes forward to announce the death of Matthew Shepard, he looked straight into my eyes and it felt like Matthew Shepard had indeed just died. I felt I was being talked to rather than talked at.

These moments are important for a play like Laramie because its main purpose is not just to invoke observation but to also provide factual information, to document. Being a part of the play and engaging with the actors makes the whole thing a lot more realistic.

Aaron Bernard, who plays 13 roles, is able to switch flawlessly from one character to another, changing accent and attitude with great fortitude and efficiency. One moment he plays a wise open-minded cab driver with a big-city accent and the next minute he's homophic small-town hick Conrad Miller, who thinks gay people are the equivalent of animals. His acting and characterisation push the plot forward. He draws contrasts and gives light to many of the underlying issues which the play aims to address.

The Nash Theatre is hardly a spectacular venue. The audience sit on plastic chairs and there is no control booth; you can hear the light switch turn on and off as scenes change, but perhaps this works to the play's and actors' advantage. We enjoy an intimacy we would have otherwise not experience in larger theatres and as an audience we were all able to develop a relationship with each of the actors on an individual basis.

The Laramie Project is a piece put together from interviews with the residents of Laramie, as well as journal entries. It is the story of Matthew Shepard, a homosexual man who was robbed and killed in 1998 by two homophobic men. The director, Dan Lane, noted the play could just as easily be set in present-day regional Australia. Essentially it is a play about community.

— Hristina Vasileva

(Performance seen: 17th March 2012)
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Earlier reviews