Image sourced from the QPAC website. Image sourced from the QPAC website.

Queensland Ballet’s The Nutcracker – Boredom-free Ballet.

Posted by on Dec 8, 2013 in Events, Theatre

This is a review for a Ballet performance. I know it’s a little outside of ’boutique restaurants, cafes, and bars’ however I hope that you will enjoy it nonetheless. HITW is aiming to slowly expand its scope of reviews to include anything that falls within the non-mainstream cultural niche. This could be clothing brands, theatre performances, or general events around Brisbane. Let us know what you think of this idea because we write these reviews for you –  you sexy Brisbanites.

A MANIFESTO ON CRITIQUES OF ART:

Ballet doesn’t have a reputation for being the most accessible of art forms. In my head ballet is ‘high brow’ and sits among opera, croquet, and cufflinks in the list of ye olde things for rich and refined ladies and gentlemen. Although this isn’t actually the case I, like many others, had accepted this idea of ballet because I hadn’t had any experiences to prove otherwise.

Bear in mind that whilst, admittedly, I’m in no way a guru on dance I have seen quite a lot of ballet through my job as an usher at QPAC – including the apparently world class Bolshoi Ballet. But do you really need to be an expert on something to give an opinion worth listening to? Maybe. I don’t know. I think it depends on who you are. I had a friend once tell me that opera is essentially just regular singing except that the performers put on an operatic voice. She then proceeded to give me a demonstration by melodramatically caricaturing  the open throated, arpeggio-heavy, over-embellished vocal style of an imaginary opera singer. At the time it seemed like she’d cracked an ancient code to singing and all of a sudden opera goers seemed like fools. ‘You like opera huh? But don’t you know that everyone can sing opera? Listen. OOOOEERRRAAHHH!’ For the brief period of time where I could actually sustain this belief it was a fun time. I like feeling better than other people, and when you’re blissfully ignorant to important facts (e.g. Singing in an operatic style and actually sounding good is actually kind of difficult) maintaining the illusion of superiority is easy.

So maybe it doesn’t do a performance any justice to play critic when you don’t really know anything about the skills involved. Maybe. If you’re speaking to an audience of ballet experts, for example, it would be almost insulting for a layman to try and critique it. You’d probably be met with the attitude of ‘Don’t you dare try and critique something you don’t anything about. With your feeble knowledge of the subject you can’t really appreciate it on the same level as we – the experts – do’. Sure, it’s a claim dripping with elitism, and it inflames my Tall Poppy Syndrome, but maybe it holds a few grains of truth.

Alternatively, however, maybe you don’t care about whether or not a performance is technically proficient or not and as such you want a reviewer that shares your down-to-earth approach. And at times there is a benefit to being an ignorant spectator. A mind free of baggage the  ignorant viewer can appreciate an artform organically, feeling no need to criticise the Carbriole in the Adagio section because they do not know what a cabriole is and frankly couldn’t care less about it provided that their senses are stimulated by the aesthetic spectacle in front of them. This is the idea that art is for everyone – not just for those who have invested the time into cultivating an impressively marginalising art-specific vocabulary and attitude to boot.

So what am I trying to say? Well essentially the preceding paragraphs are just a massive caveat to make myself feel comfortable in giving a review on ballet – a style of dance I know very little about. I expect that I will overlook important technical elements of the ballet but that’s fine because now you know that this will happen and I’m not pretending to be an expert. So let’s review.

A REVIEW OF QUEENSLAND BALLET’S ‘THE NUTCRACKER’

Image sourced from the QPAC website.

Image sourced from the QPAC website.

Until now all the ballet’s I’d seen had all been constituted by a formulaic combination of gratuitous prancing, minimalistic sets and costumes, and a hearty dose of ‘if you don’t like this then it’s your fault for not being cultured enough’. Ballet has always been something that I wished I could appreciate but didn’t.

Recently all of this changed and  I can honestly say that on Friday night “I thoroughly enjoyed the ballet”. Do you realise how grown up that makes me feel? The truth is, though, that I haven’t matured a bit. I haven’t yet swapped computer games for the financial times, and I’m probably always going to going to snigger every time I hear a penis innuendo. It’s not me that has changed but the ballet. It was one of those nights where everything fell into place – I suddenly understood the appeal of telling a story through music and dance.

The Nutcracker is a fun and fast paced ballet. The sets are vibrant and colourful, the scenes are never long or dull, and there is plenty of humour throughout the performance. Queensland Ballet’s newly appointed artistic director Li Cunxin (former ballet dancer and author of Mao’s Last Dancer) is surely a large influence on this transition towards more readily accessible ballet.

The Nutcracker’s first act is particularly exciting. The first scene is a family Christmas represented with a refreshing honesty. It would be all too easy to give the audience what they expect – christmas trees, pudding, presents, etc. But that probably isn’t what we remember about Christmases. It’s the other stuff – the time that auntie Rose had too many chardonnays and fell in the fool – that we really remember. In QB’s Christmas scene the children fight with each other and the parents struggle to keep them quiet while in the meantime grandpa gets progressively more inebriated and rowdy. Despite the constant action however, the scene never appears to be messy or crowded. The choreography is dynamic, but organised and obviously well-rehearsed.

The acting really pulls The Nutcracker together. It’s often pantomime-y and over the top, but this is certainly better than the mannequin-like facade of facial happiness presented in typical ballets. The characters have personalities; A father seems proud, a grandfather is mischievous, and a child is rebellious. This transforms the performance from ‘dancing with a vague story’ to ‘a story told through music and dance’ which is, I think, what ballet should be.

Humour is utilised to great effect in The Nutcracker. Some of the most memorable moments included Li Cunxin’s soon-to-be-a-stylistic-trademark cross-dressing and an epic battle between a dancer and 3 giant rats (I kid you not).

The second act is more performance based than story based but is still very captivating. The orchestration perfectly integrates with the music and at one point I got the tingles (my favourite) from a choral choir singing in the wings. It is worth complimenting the performances of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra who brilliantly execute Tchaikovsky’s score with a subtle intensity. The fact that you could pay to hear the QSO play just the score of The Nutcracker makes the  ticket price seem very reasonable.

I liked Queensland Ballet’s production of the Nutcracker because it challenged my perceptions on what a ballet is and can be.  I like being challenged, and I especially like having my horizons expanded. The Nutcracker did both of these things. Queensland Ballet’s The Nutcracker is playing at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre in the Playhouse from now until the 21st of December.

Review and rant by Andrew Bloyce.

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