Dangerous Liaisons

Playhouse (Queensland Ballet)

This ballet confronts the audience  with the love, seduction and manipulation of the aristocracy in pre-revolutionary France.

It re-tells the story of the original 18th century novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, Les Liaisons Dangereux. That novel was based on letters the characters sent to each other. Choreographer and artis-in-residence with the Royal Ballet, Liam Scarlett, accurately describes it as “a story of the rich, the deceitful and the corruption of all those that stand in their way”. Three centuries later, these themes still resonate.

The Queensland Ballet  website warns would-be attendees of the production’s adult themes and unsuitability for children.

The opening scene depicts the Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil (danced with wicked brilliance by Yanela Panera), seemingly as the grieving widow at the funeral of the late Marquis. As the mourners disperse, the audience is shocked to witness her frolic with her former lover Comte de Gercourt (Ari Thompson) on the coffin, an action described with masterly understatement in the program notes  as her being “deeply comforted” by the Comte.

The Marquise and the Vicomte Sebastian de Valmont (Rian Thompson) concoct a malicious bet to corrupt the young, virginal Cecile (Lina Kim), daughter of Madame de Volanges (Merteuil’s cousin).

The music of French composer Camille Saint-Saens gives a richness to this tale of intrigue  and revenge. Although Saint Saens is firmly romantic, his works give expression to the form and shape of the baroque music of the eighteenth century.

The costuming is sumptuous. One is transported to another country in another era.

The return to dancing, albeit in character roles, of Rachael Walsh (Madame de Volanges) and Janette Mulligan ( Madame de Rosemonde) brings joy to the Brisbane audience. Rachael Walsh dances with sublime beauty and grace.

The choreography is graphic. The sensuality is explicit rather than implied. One is left to wonder whether some dimensions of a passionate pas de deux should be left to the artistic imagination of the audience.

Two hundred and thirty years after the fall of the Bastille, this ballet reminds us why the French people were impelled to revolt against a corrupt aristocracy for the causes of liberty, equality and fraternity.

Choreographer: Liam Scarlett
Composer: Camille Saint-Saens
Music Arrangement: Martin Yates
Costume and Set Design: Tracy Grant Lord
Lighting Designer: Kendall Smith
Conductor: Nigel Gaynor
Music performed by: Camerata – Queensland’s Chamber Orchestra
Duration: 2 hours 10 minutes with one 20-minute interval

— Matt Foley
(Performance seen: Tue 26th March 2019)

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