Queensland Ballet Presents Excalibur

By Shaaron Boughen /Pointe Magazine / April 2006

Queensland Ballet, a state-run company of 18 dancers in eastern Australia, has turned for inspiration to the legends surrounding King Arthur and his knights. These tales have been the imaginative trigger for many artistic journeys so it is no surprise to see a full-length dance emerge from them. Choreographed by Artistic Director FranÁois Klaus, Excalibur: The Legend of King Arthur received its premiŤre in November 2003 at the Queensland Performing Arts Centreís Playhouse Theatre in Brisbane.

Klaus has taken the epic tales of medieval Britain and produced a two-act, two-hour-plus ballet. He advances the story through text by using a singing bard, freelance soprano and composer Amy Cutler, with music including Purcell, Bach and Cutlerís own pieces. Although necessary, the bardís sporadic appearances, linking unrelated scenes, seemed to interrupt the action. The company used the full depth of the Playhouse stage for the first time, enhancing lighting possibilities and adding to the size of the production.

Klaus displays adequate mastery of ballet technique. His insecure control over dramatic shape and the rhythms of tension and climax in each scene creates a problem for the ballet as a whole, however, and makes the work unconvincing. The inevitable tragic outcome, where King Arthur and his son Mordred stab each other to death, was greeted not by profound horror but by titters of mirth and then embarrassment.

Perhaps the problem lies in the many turbulent tales within this epic. The ballet depicts Merlin, the enchanter; Mordred, son of Arthur and Arthurís half-sister, Morgaine; and Lancelot, King Arthurís most trusted knight, who falls in love with Guinevere, King Arthurís wife. Each story has its own dramatic importance, but no one in particular prevails. Or perhaps the problem lies in the relationship between literalness and abstraction in balletís storytelling techniques.

Although the ballet is unsatisfying, some highlights should be noted. Lighting designer Jason Organ has produced stunning lighting plots that both define the space architecturally and shift the work effectively through time and place. Costumes by Selene Cochrane successfully maintain a palette of rustic reds, browns, ochres and greens with clean and simple lines in both cut and decoration.

Two of the main roles, Merlin and Morgaine, were danced by company principals Paul Boyd and Rachael Walsh, respectively. The clarity they brought to these character roles attests to their artistic skills. Lancelot and Guinevereís passion for each other was managed well by dancers Tama Barry and Amelia Waller. An uninhibited pas de deux expressed Wallerís transition from faithful but unfulfilled wife to joyful lover. Michael Braun, as Young Arthur, and Zachary Chant, as his foster brother, Cai, both performed with technical assurance and great, youthful exuberance.

Heavily patterned and tightly organized gestural sequences dominated the corps de ballet work for the women in particular. In contrast, the men worked with freer energy, covering space quickly and powerfully if not as tidily. More of this quality would have spiced up the Druid ritual of the Beltane fires giving it some real passion rather than controlled pretense.

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