Yet another sold out show from Queensland Ballet, and one aimed squarely at the children. This restaging of the Houston Ballet production has lots of slapstick comedy, sword fighting, pirates, mermaids, scary Red Indians, and fairies. There’s not a tutu in sight and a complete lack of adagio! There were also a lot of masked faces and faces that were heavily made up with some weird and scary effects. Mr and Mrs Darling, danced on the night by Hao Bin and Clare Morehen were dark figures with deadpan masked faces. Not ideal parents at all.
Elgar’s score, played by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrew Mogralia, is spirited without being dramatic and there are no romantic bits to getting the way of the action. But a word of warning – read the program before the show opens. I didn’t and found the first act a bit confusing.
Three tall figures that looked like Darth Vader in nun costumes pushed the Darling children on stage in prams. The synopsis tells us that the children were looked after by evil nursemaids who treated them badly and these strange figures were those nursemaids. But the children were not really troubled as they were also cared for by a bunch of athletic fairies. There were four children in the prams, Wendy, John, Michael, and another child with wild orange hair called Peter, apparently the fourth Darling child. Peter falls from his pram and is swept away with the rubbish never to be seen again. Oddly enough when Peter Pan arrives on the scene he is the same child. This seemed odd for J.M. Barrie created his character based on his older brother, David, who died in an ice-skating accident the day before he would have turned 14. There is no story about a baby growing up in the Neverland and we know that people who die young never grow old. Just a bit odd to me.
But confusing as it was the act contained some amazing shadow work that brought the Pre Professional Program dancers into the act and ended with some beautiful aerial ballet as Peter, danced by Camilo Ramos, Wendy, danced by Yanela Pinera (the star if the night for me), Rian Thompson’s John and a cheeky Michael danced by Lina Kim set off for the Neverland.
The second act saw the introduction of a gleeful and mischievous lot of Lost Boys, the sinister Red Indians, the brainless Pirates, led by the villainous Captain Hook, and of course the crocodile. Hook was danced, complete with lobster claw hand by Vito Bernasconi. He obviously enjoyed his role.
Act three was sheer action as the Lost Boys and the Darling children are captured and brought on board the pirate ship only to be rescued by Peter Pan. Then the battle begins and all hell breaks loose on board.
There are some softer moments – the Mermaid Dance for one with some gentle moves from Hao Bin, Clare Morehen, Lisa Edwards and Vanessa Morelli and some pretty pas de deux with Wendy and Peter. I enjoyed the Redskins dances too led by Eleanor Freeman, and Shane Wuerthner. They were nicely sinister and slithery
One of the Pre Professional Year dancers, Hannah Hughes got her moment in the sun as the flying double for Tinkerbell, a role she alternates with the Baby Wendy. The audience loved every minute, but for me, the costuming let the show down. I wasn’t too fond of the fairy costumes; they looked a bit like Coney Island vaudeville acts and Peter looked more like a screen Tarzan. There also seemed to be fragmentation in the dancers who were a bit ragged at times. Nevertheless, as I said, the audience had a ball and it is a great show to introduce children to ballet.
On a separate note it was interesting to read in the program how international the Queensland Ballet company is today. In the five principal dancer we have two from China, Hao Bin and Meng Ningning; Laura Hidalgo from Argentina; Yanela Pinera from Cuba and Clare Morehen from Australia. The soloists are Australians Lisa Edwards and Emilio Pavan, Cuban Camilo Ramos, and American Shane Wuerthner.
Company: Queensland Ballet
Venue: Playhouse Theatre, Queensland Performing Arts Centre, South Bank, Brisbane
Dates: June 20 – July 11 2015
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television