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A lost year won't stop Queensland Ballet from celebrating its 60th

Culture

After being forced to postpone its 60th birthday celebrations last year, Queensland Ballet is preparing to kick off its belated Anniversary Gala at Queensland Performing Arts Centre next month.

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The Anniversary Gala, which will run from March 5-20, will pay tribute to the contributions of Queensland Ballet’s five artistic directors – Charles Lisner, Harry Haythorne, Harold Collins, François Klaus and Li Cunxin – and will include presentations of some of the company’s most beloved works from the past six decades.

Current artistic director Li Cunxin said the Gala “truly is a performance brimming with treasures”, that would include Lisner’s Chopin Pas de Deux, Harold Collin’s Lady of the Camellias and Harold Lander’s Ѐtudes, to name a few.

It was on April 29, 1960, that Lisner – with a company of 11 dancers in tow – presented the first season of what was then called the Lisner Ballet at the Academy Theatre in Brisbane.  It was the first step in a journey that would lead to that humble company transforming into Queensland Ballet, which now boasts 60 company dancers.

“After a year of waiting anxiously and with excitement, finally we are almost here and it’s such an important milestone for us to celebrate,” Li told InQueensland.

“Not many companies internationally have a history of 60 years but what’s even more pleasing is [the Anniversary Gala] gives us the chance to celebrate the success and incredible achievements and the legacies of the artistic directors before me and the company as a whole.

Li said the idea of presenting a gala concert that paid tribute to the company’s legacy was an idea that he first had “the day when I first took over in 2012”.

“I thought a 60-year anniversary would be a marvellous time to really celebrate,” he said.

“It’s not just the company’s success, it’s also the community’s success and all Queenslanders’. Without their support and their belief and passion, it doesn’t matter what you produce, you really have to have a meaningful audience to be enthused and supportive and love what you do.”

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

The Anniversary Gala will feature Chopin Pas de Deux, which was originally staged by QB in 1965 by Lisner; an excerpt from Klaus’s 2004 production Cloudland, which explores themes of love and loss centred around the iconic Brisbane venue of the same name; and a re-staging of the Tavern Scene from Carmina Burana, originally translated from Carl Orff’s Cantana by then-resident choreographer Jaqui Carroll in 1983.

It will also include The Lady of the Camellias – Pas de Deux, Act II, choreographed by Collins; Don Quixote Pas de Deux – Wedding Pas de Deux, Act III, adapted from choreography by Marius Petipa and considered one of the most challenging pieces for classical ballet dancers; and the Finale from The Little Mermaid, choreographed by Klaus,

“We are delighted to confirm Ako Kondo & Chengwu Guo from the Australian Ballet will be performing the iconic Don Quixote Pas de Deux at the 60th Anniversary Gala performances on 9th and 10th of March,” Li said.

“My goal was to select something from each era and each directorship, particularly the likes of Charles Lisner, Harold Collins and Francois [Klaus]. I wanted to find an exemplary piece that was really representative of each era to be able to perform, just to remind us what excellence was achieved during their times as well.”

“Respecting the history of the achievements of our previous artistic directors is one thing but also, how do you program representing what the company is today to allow us to look forward to a more exciting journey ahead. I think comprising all of those elements was important.”

The suite of works for the Gala Anniversary shows will conclude with Harald Lander’s homage to classical ballet, Études, which will showcase an evolved company under Li’s artistic direction.

“The last part of the program is really about showcasing the excellence of what our company is now and it gives people a glimpse of what the future holds, because the standard of the company today – the dancers, the production values and technical abilities – is just incredible.”

Asked whether he thought Lisner would approve of where Queensland Ballet is positioned moving into its 61st year, Li took a long pause to consider his answer.

“Sometimes I think about that and I do hope he would be smiling very proudly from above us,” Li said.

“His widow, Valerie Lisner, is still very close to the company and she is so proud of where the company is today and she has said many times she thinks Charles would have been very proud.  I hope he’s proud.”

Queensland Ballet’s 60th Anniversary Gala will run from March 5-20 at the Playhouse Theatre, QPAC. For more information or to book tickets, visit  queenslandballet.com.au/2021/60th-anniversary-gala

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