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Free kick: Ballet out to make its mark at AFL's big dance


First Queensland Symphony Orchestra put its hand up for a role in pre-match entertainment for the AFL grand final at the Gabba – now Queensland Ballet is keen to make a pointe.

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“It would be a great opportunity to make a point of difference to the traditional sort of AFL grand final and also to show the rest of the country what Queensland has to offer in the cultural and arts space,” Queensland Ballet’s artistic director Li Cunxin told InQueensland.

Li said the company had decided to take a punt after collaborating with Brisbane Lions players for a recent online training session.

In an effort to prove its pointe, Queensland Ballet has compiled some highlights from that session – as well as footage from a football scene from Coppelia, a reworked dance piece from this year’s 60 Dancers: 60 Stories program and some original content – in a video sent to AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan and Gold Coast Suns Chairman Tony Cochrane, who helped secure the Queensland grand final.

The video might take a light-hearted and humorous approach but Li said this wasn’t a publicity stunt and insisted Queensland Ballet was sincerely enthusiastic about the prospect of being involved in the pre-match festivities for the grand final.

“We actually had our dancers specifically film two sessions for this, we didn’t just grab something that was on the shelf,” he said.

Some of the Brisbane Lions players involved in the Queensland Ballet training sessions looked a little less nimble than they do on a football field and equally, Li said some of the dancers’ football skills also left a lot be desired.

“So we had to give them a fast training session to make sure they knew how you handle the ball properly and handball the ball and grab the ball in the middle of the air while jumping and leaping, you know, we made a huge effort.”

Li said his company had already been thinking about how it could become involved in the grand final pre-game entertainment before Queensland Symphony Orchestra threw its hat into the ring with performances of the Brisbane Lions and Gold Coast Suns team songs and did not intend to step on QSO’s toes.

“We work with QSO all the time in our productions, so we could work with QSO and collaborate with them, so it could be a really seamless partnership in working together to make arts and culture part of the AFL grand final.

“I really think we’ve got a really unique opportunity to make this year’s a point of difference from what the AFL have done in the past. My wife and I lived in Victoria for many years and we were invited to grand finals on numerous occasions, and the one that I would say was missing, is that arts and cultural aspect.”

Li said Australian rules football and ballet had more in common than audiences might think at first glance and said performing before the grand final would give Queensland Ballet the opportunity to “show off the athleticism of our dancers, which we think is mirrored in the game”.

“We can clearly see the physical connection between ballet and AFL. Both require a high level of strength, athleticism and dedication to succeed at the highest level.”

Li and his wife Mary spent several years living in Melbourne after Li was appointed principal dancer for the Australian Ballet in 1995.

“After having lived in Victoria, you can’t not become an AFL fan,” he said, adding that the couple’s three children were also AFL enthusiasts.

“My family watch all the games and actually my children, particularly during this time, they watch it all the time and we sort of want to throw them off the couch so they do some work and do some study but they’re just glued to it and they have their entertainment fulfilled.”

Queensland Ballet artistic director Li Cunxin. (Photo: David Kelly)

Li admitted his time in Victoria had led him to barrack for the Kangaroos but said he had also become an enthusiastic supporter of the Brisbane Lions since taking on his current role at Queensland Ballet in 2012.

“Well, we have been supporters of North Melbourne Kangaroos for many years and since we moved to Brisbane, naturally we’ve been very interested in how the Lions have been going and we’re very happy with how the Lions have been doing in the last two seasons.

“And now, North Melbourne is out of the finals so we’re definitely supporting the Lions, we hope they can get over the line and be the winner of this year’s premiership.”

Li said he had some specific ideas on what the company could showcase and said it would be “bespoke” but he wasn’t willing to give too much away.

“We certainly would like to make it really approachable and I think there should be a bit of a light-heartedness, and I really think it should be humorous and I really think we can really create something unique.

“I don’t want to talk too much about it but if the AFL are interested, we’re happy to sit down with them to be able to share some of the more detailed ideas – I think it could be pretty exciting.

“I think a lot of AFL fans will be able to relate to how beautiful the physical art form of ballet is. I think people will be intrigued and will be quite amazed how much similarities there are.”

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