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Playhouse Theatre, QPAC, Queensland Ballet
July 11, 2015
In the second ballet of its fairytale-themed 2015 season, the Queensland Ballet has brought a little bit of magic to its audiences with the tale of Peter Pan, the boy who would not grow up.
Based on the plays and novels of J.M. Barrie, the ballet follows the three Darling children as they are whisked away from their London home to the magical world of Neverland, home of Peter Pan and his merry gang of Lost Boys. The children meet mermaids and native Americans and are kidnapped by swashbuckling pirates, but ultimately win the day with the help of their new friends.
QPAC’s commitment to the magical event was admirable – patrons were greeted by staff wearing green wings and headpieces, and a small exhibition including props and original costumes was set up above the foyer. It was wonderful to see so many children in attendance and they were read the story of Peter Pan before the performance at the “Story Corner with Wendy.”
The ballet was choreographed by Trey McIntyre for the Houston Ballet, who first performed it in 2002. Queensland Ballet’s artistic director Li Cunxin was a principal in the Houston Ballet at the time, and says that he “had little doubt that [Trey] would become a big choreographer.” Set designer Thomas Boyd agreed that it is exciting to revisit the production, which he first staged for the Houston Ballet in 2002. Original costumes from the Houston Ballet, designed by Jeanne Button, are used in the Queensland Ballet’s performance.
McIntyre’s choreography is exceptional, incorporating acrobatics and physical comedy that had the audience laughing out loud. There was a great contrast in style between each group of Neverland citizens, in particular – the mermaids were light and fluid, with a lot of lifts and arabesques, while the movements of the Native American tribe were heavier and sharper, with a more contemporary feel. The pirates and Lost Boys were similar in style but the characterisation of each was distinct. The company dancers are all to be commended for their wonderful character work.
All of the lead characters showed not only well-tuned classical technique. but a unique dramatic flair. In her role as Wendy Darling Yanela Pinera was weightless even when she was not attached to wires, but also did a great job of bringing through the audacious, strong-willed character. Rian Thompson became John Darling in paisley pyjamas and his character’s signature bowler hat, and Lina Kim was adorable as the youngest and most excitable Darling child, Michael. Vito Bernasconi was comically tragic, the perfect choice for the villainous Captain Hook, and Liam Geck was a surprise standout in the role of Hook’s son, James.
The character of Tinkerbell the fairy was barely featured at all in the ballet, which was a shame – the fairies were used primarily as a device to move props around without leaving an awkward pause. Laura Hidalgo’s brief moments of solo ballet work as Tinkerbell were impossible to look away from. She displayed great technique, energy and power, and it would have been great to see more of her.
Mischievous and child-like, full of adventure and excitement, Camilo Ramos truly brought the character of Peter Pan to life onstage. Although some of his partner work with Pinera’s Wendy seemed shaky during the second act, he danced strongly in the first and final acts, and his work suspended from wires was incredible to witness.
Much use was made of props in the performance – the Darling children are first seen in giant carriages, being pushed through the foggy streets of London by their wax-faced nannies. Captain Hook’s pirate ship and Peter’s smaller boat were highlights, and used to incredible effect in a fight between the pirates and the Lost Boys. Oversized, almost abstract sets brought the audience into the mind of the children, where anything is possible and things are not necessarily as they seem.
Aspects of masque were also employed throughout the performance. Wendy dreams of dancing with shadows, which was executed to great effect by dancers in black unitards behind a backlit scrim. Later in the ballet, Captain Hook shows the kidnapped Wendy a film of his childhood in an attempt to trick her into sympathising with the pirates.
The music for the ballet is a collection of over 20 different pieces by British composer Edward Algar, arranged by Neil DePonte, whose compositions are also feature. The score was beautifully performed, as always, by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the performance, and the one that the company remained tight-lipped in the lead up to opening night, was the flying. Peter teaches the Darling children how to fly, and floats around their bedroom before they all journey across the starry sky to Neverland. Peter’s flight sequence was so complex that it had to be programmed, not manually operated as the Darling children’s wires were. The dancers did an incredible job of performing in mid-air, and the flight to Neverland was seamless.
The Queensland Ballet has perfectly captured the mysterious, exciting, terrifying journey that growing up can be, while maintaining a sense of awe and wonder that could make the most world-weary grown-up believe in magic again.
The Queensland Ballet will be performing Peter Pan at QPAC, Brisbane from June 26-July 11