People from Canberra and the surrounding regions came in droves to Commonwealth Park to watch the Australian Ballet perform outdoors as part of the Canberra Festival. Dressed in rain wear, they sat under their umbrellas, waiting. About five minutes before the show was due to start, the rain stopped, the umbrellas went down and the very large audience was treated to a gala performance showcasing some of the company's top dancers.
Lana Jones and Daniel Gaudiello, dashingly costumed in red, black and gold, opened the evening with a pas de deux, La Favorita. Both have strong, sure techniques and it was a joy to watch them dance together. But what made this item the stand-out of the evening for me was the ability of Jones and Gaudiello to project emotion off the stage and into the audience. We weren't seated in a space enclosed by walls and a roof and the extent of the ''auditorium'' was vast, so being able to project in such a situation was some feat and not achieved to the same extent by others during the evening.
A second highlight for me was Rachel Rawlins and Ty King-Wall dancing the pas de deux from Giselle Act II. Rawlins is such a mature artist and captured beautifully the ethereal qualities of Giselle, as she danced to keep her one true love alive until dawn. I was also impressed by Juliet Burnett and Andrew Killian who danced the pas de deux from Nutcracker. Burnett was poised and controlled in one of the most classical of pas de deux. Killian was a suitably caring cavalier and danced his solos with great style.
We also saw the rising star of the company, Chengwu Guo, in pas de deux from Don Quixote and Le Corsaire. While Chengwu's turns and jumps were spectacular, I missed the passion and the sexuality that more mature performers are able to bring to these works. Also on the program were the pas de deux from Stephen Baynes' Molto Vivace, the Act III pas de trois from Graeme Murphy's Swan Lake, which suffered from being seen out of the context of the complete ballet, and excerpts from La Baydere.
The size of the audience for an event that took place in less than ideal weather conditions was a clear signal to the Australian Ballet that the taxpayers of the national capital and beyond want the Australian Ballet back in Canberra. Now it's up to the company to find a way around perceived difficulties with orchestras, stages, box office takings, scheduling and so forth and give back the annual visit that was part of the local scene for decades.