Mulan – The Queensland National Ballet

Mulan - The Queensland National Ballet
Mulan – The Queensland National Ballet

I’ll admit I have been out of the ballet/dance loop for a while but I figured I must have misheard: ‘Queensland National Ballet’ were doing Mulan. How can you have a State National ballet? So I hit the internet to find out more. As far as I can gather, QNB provide a dance school of excellence for school aged students, a full-time RTO accredited dance course and a self described ‘dynamic new company of full-time professional dancers, performing a myriad of dance works’. The website is pretty (the photography is awesome!) but not overly informative – for instance, I couldn’t find when QNB was established.

At any rate, I have definitely heard of Mulan. Since Disney got its hands on it, the classic Chinese tale of the daughter who goes to war disguised as a man in her sick father’s place, is now as well known as Snow White and lucky Mulan gets to join Jasmine, Tiana and Pocahontas in the pantheon of Disney princesses.

As it turned out, it was lucky I had this abbreviated understanding of the plot because the program was very little help in explaining the synopsis. And while the brush stroke font was chosen to emulate the brush strokes of Chinese characters, the all capitals font does not make a friendly read.

Luckily, there is NOTHING wrong with the dancing! Good dancing is enjoyable – anyone who has sat through interminable dance school concerts know the agony of fumbled choreography, inappropriate or uninspiring costuming and a mix of abilities.

This company of youngsters are clearly committed, very well-rehearsed, technically very strong and comfortable on their stage – even the littlies! The costuming was colourful and effective and clearly a lot of effort has gone into the painted backdrop. I loved the lit candles on stage (even though the safety officer in me was a little concerned!) and the lighting design worked well, again, colourful and effective – everything marrying together to evoke the Chinese flavour of the story.

Which is why I was a bit confused in the second act when the senior girls executed with grace, confidence and technical superiority, a section that looked like it had been cut and pasted from a completely different ballet. Perhaps good choreography and lots of rehearsal are hard to waste? Ballet isn’t known for being all that true or sensible to its source materials but that section while quite enjoyable was hard to miss with a palpable European flavour.

It seems that although the performance had quality dancers and dance choreography, a little more attention the finer details would have increased the production value. In particular the accursed smoke machine that seemed to be on almost permanently, rendering the entire performance as slightly misty; Mrs Mulan had an overabundance of white make up which may have looked less accidental if more of the cast had also adopted it; Princess Rouran appeared in an outfit left over from the Arabian Nights; there was a slight over use of ‘Chinese scarf dancing’ and, ladies please, the fans used in the first act, while used to beautiful choreographed effect in the dances, really need to be kept still when you are not dancing – light and movement draw the eye and the fluttering of sequin covered fans provided plenty of distraction from the marvellous dancing.

The ‘battle’ scenes of the second act were athletic, engaging and had little to none of that cringe factor that ‘modern’ dance can occasionally inspire and as such married well with the essentially classic style of the rest of the performance.

As always, not enough boys (Parents! Why do you only send your little girls?) but Pryce Brown and Nathan Mennis are proving very adept role models for the younger lads.

As for the ladies, Anika McCarthy’s performance in the titular role of Mulan was practically faultless and the other soloists held their own even if their contribution to the story line was, through no fault of their own, a bit more nebulous.

Congratulations to Artistic Director/Choreographer Martyn Fleming and his company of young dancers are definitely in order. With a bit more maturity this company will smooth out the peripheral rough spots, providing they keep their commitment to the quality of their dancing and performance, they should become a permanent fixture on the Brisbane dance scene. After all, who cares if you cant read the program if they dance like a dream?

Bobbi-Lea Dionysius

Bobbi-Lea is's QLD Co-ordinator, writer, reviewer, and reporter. She is also an actor, presenter, and theatre/film producer for Drama Queen Productions in Brisbane. Bobbi-Lea holds a Degree in Music Theatre as well as a Degree in Film & TV, and is currently doing her Masters in Screen Production.

Bobbi-Lea Dionysius

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