Strictly Gershwin

Lyric Theatre (Queensland Ballet)


Shall we dance or keep on moping?
Shall we dance or walk on air?
Shall we give in to despair
Or shall we dance with never a care?
– George and Ira Gershwin. 1937

The Queensland Ballet production of Strictly Gershwin is a knockout! Miss it at your peril.

Brisbane audiences are usually too phlegmatic for a standing ovation but this is an exception. What a night! Brilliant dancing, splendid singing and a big, big band in the form of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. The QSO conductor Gareth Valentine gets into the ballet swing of things with a few chic moves of his own.

Yanela Pinera stars yet again in the Overture and in the sumptuous ‘Rhapsody in Blue’. She is a Cuban study in scintillation. Her partners Camilo Ramos and Victor Esteves help to present these masterpieces of the early twentieth century with contemporary flair. On the pop charts Lady Gaga is wowing them with Tony Bennett classics – so it is in the world of dance here in good ol’ Queensland.

Popular music meets classical in the melodies of George Gershwin. Great arias from the opera ‘Porgy and Bess’ intersect with perennial favourites like ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’. George’s brother Ira moulds lyrics to melt the coldest heart. His years as a plugger in Tin Pan Alley prepared him well for the soaring task of songwriting.

This is a musical miscellany of the Gershwin boys’ work – episodic in the manner of a pearl necklace. Not a consuming tragedy like ‘Giselle’, but so exquisitely fine in each part as to defy the lack of a whole.

Clare Morehen and Vito Baernasconi express the passionate romance of ‘The Man I Love’: Some day he’ll come along,/ The man I love/ And he’ll be big and strong,/ The man I love.

The high point of the night was the return to the stage of the legendary Rachael Walsh whom the audience welcomed back with instant applause after her premature retirement in 2014. She tap-dances ‘Oh, Lady Be Good’ with Kris Kerr and Bill Simpson with stunning virtuosity.

Teri Crilly shines like a star in ‘Who Cares?’. Throughout ‘An American in Paris’ she deftly retains an Eiffel Tower on her head as she moves through 360 degrees in all three dimensions – not a task for the faint-hearted. She is rhapsodic in ‘Rhapsody in Blue’.

In ‘Summertime’ Mia Heathcote in a gorgeous golden dress expresses the season’s rich warmth as ‘the livin’ is easy, fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high’.

Eleanor Freeman tangoes with Jack Lister to ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’ in an evocative manner fit to make the Spanish Inquisition question whether ‘the t’ings dat yo’ li’ble to read in de Bible ain’t necessarily so’.

It is unusual to have vocalists at the ballet but Rachael Beck, Michael Falzon, Aexandra Flood and Luke Kennedy make it a real song-and-dance show. Broadway comes to Southbank!

Fascinatin’ Rhythm,
You’ve got me on the go!
Fascinating Rhythm,
I’m all a-quiver.

– George and Ira Gershwin

Choreographer: Derek Deane
Words and music: Ira and George Gershwin
Music performed by: Queensland Symphony Orchestra
Music adapted and conducted by: Gareth Valentine
Lighting design: Howard Harrison
Costume design: Roberta Guidi Di Bagno
Guest pianist: Daniel Le

— Matt Foley
(Performance seen: Fri 27th May 2016)