This is Queensland Ballet as we haven't seen them before. The curtain rises to the Queensland Symphony Orchestra in Big Band mode – and, in keeping with the genre, Gareth Valentine, the musical director and arranger for the show, gyrates, bounces and gesticulates in a way that draws all eyes to him bringing appreciative and light-hearted applause.
The scene is set for what portends to be a multi-auditory, multi-visual programme with all the elements in harmony and, most significantly, in a fascinating rhythm. Ballet, orchestra, visual displays on a back screen, lighting and stage craft all work seamlessly together to create the jazz vibe so characteristic of Gershwin's era.
It is a tribute to the Gershwins' prowess that their music is so wonderfully familiar some seventy years later - Someone to Watch Over Me, Fascinatin' Rhythm, Shall We Dance, The Man I Love, S'Wonderful, An American In Paris… the list goes on.
Derek Deans, as choreographer, has been given the challenge of blending the rigour of classical ballet with the ethos of dance of the twenties and thirties. Remember Ginger Rogers saying that she did everything that Fred Astaire did, except backwards, and on heels? It is a tribute to both the principal dancers and ballet corp that they made everything seem joyous, as they tackle difficult lifts and precision steps to syncopated rhythm.
Classical, modern and tap were on display and all executed beautifully to Gershwin's music. The Tap Dancing received great applause as two men and one entrancing woman show us how it is done.
By having the band on stage, we were able to both see and hear Gershwin's music as it journeyed from Broadway to Hollywood. For instance there were virtuosic displays in the brass section with wild trumpets.
After the interval the curtain opens to a blue-lit stage, and the opening chords herald Rhapsody in Blue, described by Gershwin as "a kaleidoscope of America", and owing much to the influences of jazz. The QSO and Daniel Le made this performance world class, a view obviously shared by the exuberant and lengthy audience response.
Also a clever effect was the screen behind the band which helped to create the mood of the twenties and thirties with images of Spenser Tracey, Fred Astaire, and the Gershwin brothers. And many of the images moved in rhythm!
The singers (Rachael Beck, Michael Falzon, Alexandra Flood and
Luke Kennedy) were outstanding, not only as soloists but in their close harmony.
The glitz, glamour and razamataz building throughout the show finished in a crescendo of exuberant sound and dance to the tunes of "I've Got Rhythm"morphing into "Fascinatin Rhythm". The entire cast of dancers, plus a random cyclist, and a couple of dodgem like prams, strutted their stuff with abandon, bringing the capacity audience to their feet to a well deserved standing ovation.
My only disappointment is being told that this is to be a Brisbane only show; something so marvellous should be toured at the very least around Australia.
We are so fortunate to have The Queensland Ballet – superbly skilled, wonderfully directed, and prepared to take risks in exploring the limits of their craft.
Devised, choreographed & directed by Derek Deane
Words and Music George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin
Music adapted, supervised and conducted by Gareth Valentine
With Queensland Symphony Orchestra
Lighting Design Howard Harrison
Costume Design Roberta Guidi di Bagno
Assistant to the Choreographer Ivan Gil Ortega
Tap Choreographer/Artist Bill Simpson
Costumes and props from English National Ballet
Orchestrator Don Sebesky
Lyricist DuBose Heyward
Guest Pianist Daniel Le