Australia Queensland Ballet dancers return to the stage for 60-year gala after pandemic hiatus
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The show must go on — except during an international health crisis.
Queensland Ballet was just days from raising the curtain on its 60th anniversary gala last March when coronavirus sent the company and its dancers into lockdown.
"Everybody was so looking forward to celebrating this great milestone moment, and suddenly COVID hit," said artistic director Li Cunxin.
"Psychologically, physically, [the dancers] were so ready to go, and suddenly they said, 'You can't do it, and we don't know when you can return.'
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"It was devastating".
The pandemic forced the company to delay its entire 2020 schedule.
The dancers returned to the stage in August, to perform in front of smaller crowds.
But this month's performance will be their first in front of a full house since the start of the pandemic.
"We will be the envy of the entire world," Li said.
From humble beginnings to the world stage
The gala performance, which opens in Brisbane on Friday, pays tribute to six decades of Queensland Ballet.
Founded by Charles Lisner as a modest dance school which morphed into a small ensemble, the company now employs 60 dancers "doing world class productions", Li said.
"The journey that the Queensland Ballet has travelled through these 60 years just gives me goosebumps."
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The showcase digs into the archives and revives a collection of treasured old performances.
"I think it's a very emotional program, because so many people in Queensland have so enjoyed Queensland Ballet's journey," Li said.
"It is important for us to respect and honour the past legacies of the previous directors, but also to enjoy the success of today and to be excited about the future."
The significance of the event is not lost on young dancers like Chiara Gonzalez.
"Being part of all the pieces from the past 60 years, to bring them back into this gala to celebrate Queensland Ballet, that's pretty special," she said.
The dancers spent months rehearsing from home, transforming living rooms into makeshift studios during the height of the pandemic.
Dancer Liam Geck said he was thrilled to have the opportunity to entertain packed auditoriums once again.
"Performing for almost 800 people at the Playhouse Theatre at QPAC is what we're so used to," he said.
"We're just completely grateful, considering how, around the world, other companies are just not so lucky."
The gala runs for two weeks at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre and patrons do not need to wear masks.
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