Faith, trust and pixie dust abound in the Playhouse Theatre as Queensland Ballet brings Trey McIntyre’s whimsical Peter Pan back to Brisbane.
Fifteen years after its initial creation and two years after it first captivated Brisbane audiences, the full-length ballet takes us on a playful journey to Neverland, where no one has to grow up. Based on the works of JM Barrie, McIntyre’s Peter Pan sees the Darling children – Wendy, John, and Michael – whisked away by Peter Pan to a land of glittering fairies, blue lagoons swimming with mermaids, and dramatic swordfights with pirates. Peter introduces the Darling children to his gang of Lost Boys and together they defeat Captain Hook and his gang of pirates.
Camilo Ramos in Peter Pan. Photograph © David Kelly
Sets designed by Thomas Boyd, formerly Queensland Ballet’s Technical Director, and breathtaking costumes designed by Jeanette Button contributed significantly to the rich, immersive experience of the ballet. Puppetry brought to life the infamous ticking crocodile as well as silken fish to set the underwater scene for the floating, fluid dance of the merman (Joel Woellner) and mermaids (Lisa Edwards, Yanela Pinera, and Mia Heathcote). Screens and shadows were also cleverly used in Wendy’s nightmare and in Hook’s play-masquerading-as-a-film. The device of the enormous frame and the family picture was used to great effect in Act 1 and Act 3, bringing the whole ballet together through Wendy’s transition from childhood as she accepts, and even looks forward to, “growing up”.
The score for the ballet is a collection of different pieces by British composer Sir Edward Elgar, arranged by American-born Niel DePonte, enchantingly performed by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra under the baton of QB Music Director Nigel Gaynor.
Lighting designed by Christina R. Giannelli and recreated by Cameron Goerg brought the audience right into Neverland, from the warmth of the Lost Boys’ hideout to the cool blues of the lagoon and the ominous green-greys of the pirate ship. Undoubtedly, one magical highlight of the ballet is the scene where the Darling children fly away with Peter Pan to Neverland. As their London home faded behind them the theatre lit up with stars, cast out across the stalls to make the audience feel that they were flying too.
The Mermaids in Peter Pan. Photograph © David Kelly
Lucy Green was a wonderfully stubborn, motherly Wendy. Her character never faltered as she danced, nor did it impact on her lovely extensions and technically precise footwork. Rian Thompson was a dynamic, acrobatic Peter Pan and performed to the full extent of the character, from the heroic swashbuckler to the scared, sulky child. He was also the only cast member to perform choreography while flying and his high-speed, mid-air pirouettes were truly awe-inspiring.
Camilo Ramos was an excellent John Darling, as formal as you can be in paisley pajamas and a bowler hat, and Lina Kim was a joy to watch in the role of the rambunctious youngest Darling child, Michael. Neneka Yoshida brought high energy to the stage and sparkled, both literally and figuratively, in her role as Tinkerbell. Yanela Pinera and Joel Woellner were very emotive as Mother and Father, even wearing expressionless masks, and Victor Estevez was a perfectly haughty, melodramatic Captain Hook, supported by a swarm of his flamboyant pirates. David Power was a standout as Captain Hook’s son, James Hook, both in his character acting and his precise execution of the choreography.
The “red skin” characters, who feature in Barrie’s original work as stereotypes of Native American people, were also included in the ballet. However, they did not interact directly with any other characters, and were often used interchangeably with the landscape. It is clear that this is intended as a representation of connection to the land, but it also has the disappointing effect of presenting them as non-human and replaceable.
The pirates in Peter Pan. Photograph © David Kelly
Although the ballet relied heavily on the brilliant character acting, physical comedy, and non-verbal storytelling ability of its cast, the choreography was also very athletic and acrobatic, including a lot of lifts and aerial work, which was mostly executed to great effect. There were a few minor slips but none of this took away from the overall outcome. The complex floorwork occasionally looked strained, particularly in the Act 3 fight between James Hook and Peter Pan, but overall the Queensland Ballet dancers did an impeccable job. As fast-paced and action-packed as it gets, Peter Pan is a thrilling and magical ballet experience for the whole family.
Congratulations are also in order to Lucy Green and Camilo Ramos (who play Wendy and Peter during the season) who were both promoted to Principal Artists on opening night. Mia Heathcote was also promoted to Soloist a few days later following her first performance as Wendy.
Queensland Ballet will perform Peter Pan at QPAC, Brisbane until November 5.