Carmen & The Firebird (Qld Ballet) – theatre review

I have rarely seen an audience stunned into silent stillness as the audience was during The Firebird. It was one of the most astonishing ballets I’ve ever seen. The 55 minute long production was just mesmerising; it pulsated with emotion, character, amazing choreography from Liam Scarlett, and some brilliant interpretation from the dancers.

And of course Igor Stravinsky’s magical score played by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra under Nigel Gaynor’s baton.

It’s a simple tale of good versus evil. The wicked immortal, Koschei and the good but mischievous Firebird taunt each other in the moonlit magic garden with Koschei’s harem of beautiful captive girls and a mob of evil creatures that would be at home in a Dr Who adventure. Koschei has a new captive, the beautiful princess. Enter Prince Ivan, who falls in love with the princess and tries to rescue her. The battle ensues and good eventually triumphs over evil.

A simple tale, but so brilliantly told, acted, and danced.

Neneka Yoshida was a delightful Firebird, her flittering movement was perfectly birdlike and then she showed her strength in some difficult choreography in pas de deux with the Prince and, more violently with Koschei. She proved that her recent elevation to soloist was well deserved. Koschei was danced with immense power by Vito Bernasconi who looked the epitome of evil in his vast cloak and dark makeup.

David Power was excellent as the Prince and Lucy Green her usual elegant self as the kidnapped princess. The ensemble too, male and female added a lot to this production.

All this was helped along by a simply magnificent mechanical set and so atmospheric costumes created by Jan Bausor and James Farncombe’s lighting that perfectly matched the mood of the music. It was a truly supernatural night garden with a huge sinister gnarled tree dominating the stage. I loved it and was totally enthralled.

After the long interval needed to reset the stage it was time for the wiles of Carmen and I wondered how it would fare after such a mind blowing experience before interval. Unfortunately it didn’t fare too well. It was a potted version which ran for 55 minutes with the plot and Bizet’s score edited accordingly. In the editing it seemed to have lost its Spanish flavour and instead of a tortured tale of love and rejection, of revolution and battles it was a simple love triangle that focussed on Carmen’s power of sex. Carlos Acosta’s choreography made sure of that. There was a lot stripping off of clothes from male and female dancers and many a very passionate embrace, but the costumes were dull and the setting minimal.

But here the dancers enhanced the production; Lina Kim was as sexy a Carmen as you can get in her black underwear and traditional red dress and she did create a desirable character. The hapless policeman Don Jose was danced with feeling by Kohei Iwamoto and one of the best scenes of the show was when Carmen seduced him to escape from jail. It was pas de deux with a real difference.

Escamillo, played in shirt and tie rather that a toreador uniform was arrogant enough as danced by Victor Estevez. But somehow it just wasn’t the same for me. There was a Carmen versus a Bull pas de deux too, when Jack Lister wearing dangerous looking huge bull horns danced with Carmen.  I didn’t quite get that.

I did wonder how I would have felt if I had seen Carmen first, before he spectacle of The Firebird. But it was truly a special evening in the end.

Queensland Ballet’s Carmen and The Firebird double bill is on at the Playhouse Theatre, QPAC from 25 May – 3 June 2018. Bookings: www.qpac.com.au or 136 246. Carmen was a co-production with The Royal Ballet, Queensland Ballet, and Texas Ballet Theatre.

Eric Scott
For more of Eric Scott’s writings on theatre, check out Absolute Theatre


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