★★★★☆ A poignant triple bill to commemorate the ANZAC centenary.

Playhouse Theatre, QPAC
August 4, 2016

Queensland Ballet’s latest mainstage production, Lest We Forget, is a powerful mixed bill featuring works from renowned choreographers Ma Cong, Natalie Weir and Paul Taylor. Beginning each performance with a minute’s silence, all three pieces explore themes of love and loss in wartime, from those who served and those who were left behind. 

Lest We Forget opened with Ma Cong’s In The Best Moments, a contemporary work in three movements set to Philip Glass’s The Hours Suite. Intentionally created without a clear narrative, the piece was very much open to interpretation but each movement had a sense of emotion and movement distinct from the others. Cong’s choreography ranged from incredibly acrobatic to very subtle, working beautifully with the music. Cong made effective use of canons and repeated movement, but the overall effect would have been more striking if the dancers had been perfectly in time – one of the soloist couples in particular was often half a beat off. The piece was heavily lift-based and physical, particularly for the principal couples of each movement. Although the lifts were gasp-inducing and beautifully executed, they were incredibly challenging and seemed to require so much focus that the pas de deux carried far less emotional connection between the dancers, as they concentrated on completing the movement safely.

Recently-promoted Junior Soloist Lina Kim was essentially flawless as ever, balancing emotion and technique in the demanding pas de deux with Camilo Ramos. Alexander Idaszak accompanied Mia Heathcote in the second movement and, despite a momentary lift fumble, danced well. Idaszak was notably more expressive dancing alone – the highly physical partner work seemed to take all of his concentration. Vito Bernasconi and Teri Crilly had the best partner connection as they danced the third movement pas de deux.

In The Best Moments. Photo by David Kelly

Minimalist costumes designed by Noelene Hill allowed the audience to appreciate the strength and physical effort of the dancers, with small differences in the length and colour of the skirts worn by the principals in each movement. Lighting design by David Walters complemented each movements and made the opening and closing of the piece more memorable – notably, the oscillating wedge of orange light that closed in on the stage, signifying the impending war, and then opened out again as the final movement ended, suggestive of a more hopeful future.

Australian choreographer Natalie Weir choreographed the second piece of the ballet, We Who Are Left, following more of a narrative and exploring the loss of loved ones and the connections forged by hardship and war. While the choreography was as acrobatic and physical as Cong’s piece, there seemed to be a much clearer emotional arc for both audience and dancers to connect with. Lighting design by David Walters was vital to achieving the emotionally charged atmosphere of the piece, from the isolation of being left behind to the horrors of the battlefield, and Noelene Hill’s simple dresses and soldiers’ kits complemented the era and choreography.

Eleanor Freeman was certainly a standout as She Who Was Left with gorgeous technique and expressiveness, as well as perfect timing. Her pas de deux with Jack Lister was hauntingly beautiful, conveying a woman whose husband never returns from war but who still feels his presence in her life. Liam Geck danced strongly as The Man Who Lived and Georgia Swan was well-paired with Vito Bernasconi as another couple torn apart by war. The piece moved many audience members to tears, and the final image stays burned into the mind – five women standing beneath spotlights, their hands reaching out to be held; one woman holding the hand of the man she loves, and the rest clutching at empty air above a pair of army boots.

The third and final piece in the ballet seemed an enormous leap from the heaviness of loss in the previous piece – Paul Taylor’s seminal Americana piece Company B, set to the iconic music of the Andrews’ sisters and staged by Richard Chen See. First created in 1991, the choreography focuses on the contradictions of an America emerging joyfully from the Great Depression and a country on the cusp of the Second World War. Costumes designed by Santo Loquasto and lighting design by Jennifer Tipton used predominantly pastels and neutral colours, as well as a sparse stage and minimal lighting changes.

The Pennsylvania Polka was jauntily performed by Neneka Yoshida and Samuel Packer, followed by a floorwork-heavy Tico-Tico by Alexander Isdaszak. Jack Lister was a memorable character in Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh! and the cast women who accompanied him had excellent synchronicity. Eleanor Freeman continued to shine in I Can Dream, Can’t I? with superb timing and precision, always finishing her movements to their fullest extent as, silhouetted behind her, men marched to war. During the upbeat Joseph! Joseph! male dancers began to fall to the floor in the middle of the festivities, bringing the world of war and the celebrations of post-Depression America to overlap onstage.

David Power was a great character as the Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (of Company B) and his movements were sharp, but his elevation failed to impress in the allegro-heavy routine. Mia Heathcote shone in corps work and solos, especially Rum and Coca-Cola. The silhouettes of marching soldiers continued as Zhi Fang and Georgia Swan performed an expressive pas de deux to There Will Never Be Another You and the whole cast finished strongly under fading lights to Bei Mir Bist du Schön.

Queensland Ballet has created a truly memorable and affecting work, using dance to reflect on the emotional side of war and the incredible strength and resilience of the human spirit.

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