Review: Let’s Dance on 26th October 2019

Review by Trevor Keeling

IT WAS with some joy – and relief – that we returned to the post-flood refurbished Townsville Civic Theatre for the last Barrier Reef Orchestra concert of the year.

While the past two concerts this year have been characterised with some “big” presentations such as Dvorak’s New World Symphony and Tchaikovsky’s Fate Symphony, it is that time of the year when end of year exams have prevented many of the student players from participating. So, instead of the large symphonies which demanded confidence and bravado, these pieces required restraint, precision and delicacy from a slightly smaller orchestra.

It was therefore an evening of divertissement under the title of Let’s Dance – classical and contemporary works centred around the theme of dance. Just as those previous programmes were large and bold, these were small and finely arranged works which presented challenges of different proportions to the orchestra.

Brisbane-based Australian cellist and conductor, Gwyn Roberts, conducted the orchestra, and from the moment he stepped on to the stage, it could be seen that we were destined for something quite different. He took the audience on a journey which began at the baroque of Bach through to the Celtic rhythms of River Dance – with a host of interesting stops along the way.

The first item on the dance-card was Bach’s Gigue from Orchestral Suite in D Major, featuring trumpet solo by rehearsal conductor Mark Smith. This gave way to the extremely familiar Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen – one of the highlights of the evening. It featured a suitably attired Townsville mezzo-soprano Alice Beams, who performed this favourite aria with considerable distinction.

Contemporary pieces in the program include several works from Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla, and of course the magnetic River Dance, written and first performed as an interval piece at the 1994 Eurovision Song contest held that year in Dublin.

Classical pieces with a dance flavour included Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dance No 1 (1940) and The Miller’s Dance from the 1919 ballet The Three-Cornered Hat, composed by Manuel de Falla.

There was also the waltz-time second movement from Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major, played with remarkable precision, tenderness and delicacy by Brisbane guest pianist, Jenni Flemming.

Orchestral highlight of the evening must be the Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor with its familiar themes that were subsequently shaped into many songs for the 1953 Broadway musical Kismet.

Of course, a programme of dance is not complete without dancers, and while this was at times distracting to the performance of the orchestra, it was nonetheless an integral part of the evening’s entertainment. Cairns couple Gianni and Elena performed several Argentinian tangos, but their presentations would have been benefited with more animated delivery, varied choreography and theatrical costuming.

Three local dancers – Chelsea Pettigrew, Teya Moseley and Ivy Paxton – valiantly performed the famed River Dance, but dance highlight of the evening was surprise encore performance from violinist Lucy Fagez who donned her traditional costume for the high kicks and splits to Offenbach’s beloved Can Can from Orpheus in the Underworld.