Vis-a-Vis: Moving Stories

QPAC Playhouse (Queensland Ballet and Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble)


How does a story become a dance? Queensland Ballet artistic director, Francois Klaus gives us an insight through this singular study into the world of the choreographer.

Klaus takes four classic stories and demonstrates how they are converted into ballet. The evening starts with Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream followed by the tragedy Othello. After interval the audience is treated to the amusing antics of Peer Gynt and the three Cowherds or Trolls followed by excerpts from Tennessee Williams’ challenging piece A Streetcar named Desire.

There is nothing like a good fight between the gods to get the action moving. The goddess, Titania (Liz Verbraak) is at odds with the god Oberon (Rob Pensalfini). These actors from the locally based Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble immerse us into the merry chaos of divine conflict ushered in by Oberon’s line, “ill met by moonlight, proud Titania”. They dispute over Oberon’s desire to have “a little changeling boy to be my henchman”. This conflict is then portrayed in dance by the gifted Clare Morehen (Titania) and Christian Tatchev (Oberon) ably assisted by Yu Hui (Puck) and brilliantly clad fairies (the Corp de Ballet).

This simple but original device of following drama with ballet is most revealing. It is a credit to the Queensland Ballet and artistic director Klaus. It helps the audience understand the way dance tells a story. Drama gives the detail but dance gives the music and the emotional force.

The great poet Ezra Pound observed that “music begins to atrophy when it departs too far from the dance….poetry begins to atrophy when it gets too far from music”. The truth of this proposition is revealed when the audience has the benefit of seeing drama and ballet cheek by jowl.

Two scenes from Othello illustrate the compulsive power of deceit and jealousy. Iago manipulates Othello by sowing the seeds of doubt about the virtue of Othello’s wife, Desdemona, and offers the famously deceptive advice:
“Oh! Beware, my lord of jealousy;
It is the green-ey’d monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.”

This scene is ably performed by the actors Colin Smith (Iago) and the versatile Rob Pensalfini (Othello). Then follows the dreadful scene when Othello strangles Desdemona (played emphathetically by Liz Verbraak).

The elemental power of music and dance is driven home by a stunning performance by Rachael Walsh (Desdemona) and newcomer Alexander Koszarycz (Othello). This fatal pas de deux is set poignantly to the music of Samuel Barber, Agnus Dei: Adagio for Strings performed a cappella. This searingly sad, grand music accompanies Desdemona’s tragic demise. Rachael Walsh (Desdemona) is not only a great dancer but also a great actor. Her death at the hands of a crazed Othello is a triumph of innocence and beauty over the “green-ey’d monster”.

After interval a little light relief comes in the form of the three trolls leading Peer Gynt astray. This is followed by the melancholy encounter of Peer Gynt with his long lost beloved Solveig who has become blind. This story illustrates the difficulties facing the choreographer. As Blanch (Rachael Walsh) is starting to lose her mind she recalls events of the past when out dancing in the casino. The spectacular red satin of the costumes designed by Noeline Hall exude sensuality.

This collaboration between the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble and the Queensland Ballet brings out the best of both companies. The innovative format draws the audience into the creative process in a way which helps both drama and ballet come to life. This event has been designed for only one performance. This is a shame for it will be of great interest to all who love theatre and dance. The theatregoer will learn the importance of movement, timing and bodily grace. The ballet lover will grow in understanding of the dramatic purpose behind each leap or gesture. There is a freshness and originality about this dialogue between the two art forms. One hopes that this will not be the only occasion when this scintillating synthesis is performed.

Choreography by Francois Klaus
Music by John Metcalf, Henry Purcell, Samuel Barber, Edvard Grieg and Astor Piazzolla
Costume Design by Noelene Hill
Lighting Designed by David Walters
Duration: 2 hours 20 minutes (including interval)

— Matt Foley
(Performance seen: Tue 20th April 2010)