Simply Stunning

Pas de Deux in paradise - The Australian Ballet at  qualia

Pas de Deux in paradise - The Australian Ballet at qualia

Now in its fourth year, The Australian Ballet performance, Pas de Deux in Paradise at qualia leaves a lasting impression on all those lucky enough to attend. A magical weekend, culminating in a sublime performance under the stars, this is an experience like no other. Story Eva Wait Photography Andrea Francolini

There is quite simply nothing else like Pas de Deux in Paradise. Yes, it has as its centrepiece a breathtaking performance by four Artists of The Australian Ballet, but Pas de Deux in Paradise is an experience – a weekend during which guests meet and watch the dancers rehearse, all the while enjoying the very best Hamilton Island has to offer.

Now in its fourth year, qualia played host not only to four Principal Artists but the Artistic Director of The Australian Ballet, David McAllister, for a memorable weekend of fine food, wine and sublime dance. Once again emceed by Getaway presenter (and long time friend of Hamilton Island) Catriona Rowntree, guests enjoyed the tremendous talents of Olivia Bell, Yosvani Ramos, Adam Bull and Leanne Stojmenov against the stunning backdrop of the Whitsundays, a unique theatre setting to rival the very finest in all the world.

For the first time too this year, renowned Choreographer, Graeme Murphy AM, and his partner Creative Associate Janet Vernon AM, herself an acclaimed dancer and Creative Director, also attended the event.

Of course, a great deal goes into making this a reality “We have around 180 shows a year, so it is always tricky to find a spare moment,” says David McAllister, “Having said that, the minute I mention qualia to anyone, they are ready to drop everything and be involved.”

But even before the dancers took to the stage, guests had the rare opportunity of speaking with them and with McAllister during a welcome dinner on Friday evening, prepared by qualia’s Executive Chef, Jane-Therese Mulry. This unique opportunity to meet and speak with the dancers set the scene for the rest of the weekend, and allowed a measure of intimacy not possible in a more ‘traditional’ setting.

Saturday again afforded guests the chance to see behind the scenes, watching as the dancers prepare for the evening’s performance with a dance class on the openair stage.

Pas de Deux in paradise - The Australian Ballet at  qualia

Swan Lake Act 3, Graeme Murphy pas de trois, performed by Principal Artists Adam Bull, Leanne Stojmenov and Olivia Bell

Here guests were able get some idea of the dedication and the often gruelling work regime required to produce the exquisite and breathtaking performances.

With the excitement building and the dancers involved in preparations for the evening’s performance, guests headed for the perfect venue in which to enjoy a relaxing afternoon – lunch at the iconic Hamilton Island Yacht Club perched on the edge of Dent Passage. Here the gastronomic side to the weekend continued, with wonderful food, Moet and Chandon champagne and of course ‘that’ view.

On any other weekend, this would have been the perfect way to cap things off, but on this occasion, the finale was yet to come – and what a finale it was. For McAllister, this is what makes it all so special:

“The glorious views over the water and watching the sun set and then the stars come out. It is truly magical. It would take a great deal of money to replicate that on stage!”

As the sun set over Whitsunday Passage, the specially prepared open-air stage at qualia came alive with two pas de deux from The Merry Widow, which, as Creative Director David McAllister explained ‘was the first full-length ballet created by The Australian Ballet in 1975 by Sir Robert Helpmann and Ronald Hynd’.

Graeme Murphy AM and David McAllister talking about the Graeme Murphy Swan Lake production.

Graeme Murphy AM and David McAllister talking about the Graeme Murphy Swan Lake production.

There followed a stirring grand solo from Don Quixote, performed by Cuban-born Yosvani Ramos. The 1998 gold medallist at the Paris International Ballet Competition, Ramos joined The Australian Ballet as Principal Artist in 2008 after dancing with the English National Ballet as a soloist in 1999, ultimately being promoted to Principal Artist in 2003.

This moving performance was followed by the finale, taken from the classic Swan Lake, the pas de trois between Prince Siegfried, Odette and Baroness von Rothbart. Here, the talents of Adam Bull, Leanne Stojmenov and Olivia Bell breathed new life into this classic piece, the grace of movement combined with the gorgeous costumes against the darkening sky, accompanied by the Tchaikovsky score, producing an inspiring finale.

Bull, who graduated from The Australian Ballet School with honours in 2001, joined The Australian Ballet in 2002. His talent was immediately evident and he put his own special mark on solos and in numerous lead roles, including the company’s tours to Paris, London and Japan. Such is his exceptional talent that after only six months as a Senior Artist, he was promoted to the highest rank of Principal in 2008.

emcee Catriona Rowntree with David McAllister, the Principal Artists and the Oatley family

emcee Catriona Rowntree with David McAllister, the Principal Artists and the Oatley family

Hailing from Perth, Leanne Stojmenov began full-time training in 1993 at the Graduate College under Terri Charlesworth,before joining the West Australian Ballet in 1999. Just two years later she joined The Australian Ballet, and in 2004 went on to win the New South Wales Friends of The Australian Ballet scholarship which led to her further study throughout Europe. This year saw Stojmenov promoted to Principal Artist, a role that she cherishes and fits to perfection, as her performance clearly demonstrated.

Bell, a graduate of the Paris Opéra Ballet School, joined The Australian Ballet in 1995 and has inspired audiences since with her graceful portrayals of some of ballet’s most famous roles as well as many contemporary pieces. In 1996 she was awarded a Khitercs Foundation scholarship to study overseas, and she has since matured and flourished as a dancer of tremendous versatility. Promoted to Principal Artist in 2007, Olivia brings her own very special qualities and feel to each and every role.

For McAllister, this was a standout of the 2011 performance.

“As I was watching the the pas de trois from Swan Lake with Graeme Murphy and Janet Vernon, we remarked it was amazing that it looked just like the set for act three, which is beautiful, black, textured curtains. The drama of the wind on the dancers’ costumes meant that even when they were standing still there was movement,” he said.

Rounding out a perfect performance, guests then enjoyed a wonderful dinner at qualia and had the chance once again to speak with the dancers who had delighted and inspired them earlier on stage. That such an event took place hundreds of miles from the nearest theatre or opera house, only added to the occasion and ensures that this remains a unique ‘island’ experience.

“It is wonderful that each year we have built on the performance before,” says McAllister “…and I look forward to being there again in November 2012.”

Click here To find out more about the next Pas de Deux in Paradise, to be held 16 – 18 November 2012

The Above Article was originally published in the July 2011 Edition of REEF Magazine