Since its beginnings in 1937, Ballet Theatre Queensland has given young dancers the chance to perform in professionally staged works. Ballet Theatre Queensland’s (BTQ) tailored, supportive process takes students from training to professional production, working with students to introduce and develop their skills by taking their skills from their original training and applying them to a classic ballet, typically reserved for professional adult ballet companies, in a professional venue with a live orchestra and audience. In 2024, BTQ’s ballet was the 1889 classic The Sleeping Beauty.
Based on Charles Perrault’s La Belle au bois dormant, the ballet focuses on the classic conflict between the forces of good and evil. With many families undoubtedly being more familiar with Disney renditions of the story and alternate characters, a 21st-century performance of the 1889 ball offers the chance to view the source material and famous and recognisable music composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. In terms of story, the overarching plot and thematic messages of the rewards of kindness, patience, and perseverance. Unlike the Disney versions, however, the original focuses more heavily on the fairies as the heroic and villainous figures. In the ballet, fairies offer up gifts and beautiful celebratory court dances for the kingdom, and the Lilac Fairy stands as the hero who outsmarts the evil Carabosse. With a simple and gentle point to her temple, the Lilac Fairy shares her idea to replace Carabosse’s curse of death with the promise of a peaceful sleep for Princess Aurora. This example is one of many where the dancers’ symbolic gestures, costumes, and emotive expressions combine to tell Charles Perrault’s story with such clarity that an audience can focus on the wonders of the dancing itself.
The ballet is bookended with celebration ceremonies, with numerous opportunities for dozens of dancers to demonstrate their craft through the work’s combination of gentle and playful dancing and more action-focused movement to propel the plot forward. Many of the characters are accompanied by leitmotif to represent their demeanours and actions, while more triumphant and dense orchestral moments help give the relatively simple plot a sense of grandeur. For young dancers from primary school to late teen ages, this range of content offers the opportunity for a diverse array of solos, ensemble pieces, and even acting as onlooking characters within the story’s world.
Clare Morehen adapts Marius Petipa’s original choreography with precision and evident knowledge of both the student’s strengths and the original work’s standout dance pieces and plot lines. Despite being performed by a cast of students, the level of detail and professional rigour reverberates throughout the QPAC concert hall, with rich and emblematic set design by Bill Haycock, lighting design by Glenn Hughes, and music performed by the Cadenza Chamber Players combining to create a stage performance fit for proud family members and ballet enthusiasts alike. The costumes, as to be expected, are another standout element to the enchanting production, with Carmel Wench offering up costume design that is clear in its dichotomies (with pastels and bright colours for the good fairies, and darker blues, greens, and blacks for the evil clan lead by Carabosse) but detailed and rich in texture and flair down to each accessory, floral addition, or cape-like drapery.
Overall, the experience of watching young performers who have undoubtedly spent months preparing for, refining and mastering this magical ballet while accompanied by a live orchestra in a fully developed professional production is awe-inspiring. As they approach their 90th anniversary, Ballet Theatre Queensland has proved the level of finesse, professionalism and unique focus on providing talented and dedicated young ballet dancers with training and career experiences that are special to behold for Brisbane audiences. With over 61 dancers from 20 southeast Queensland private dance studios, students who range from just eight years old through to early adulthood forming the large ensemble, and a range of professionals at the helm of the annual productions, it is no wonder that many alumni have continued to work in companies around the world.
‘The Sleeping Beauty’ was performed at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre’s Concert Hall from January 18th – 20th. For more information about Ballet Theatre Queensland visit their website.