The atmosphere was expectant, the audience packed, and with the glossy programme depicting the raw sexuality of toned, sweaty ballerinas there was much to look forward to in this balletic interpretation of the iconic Freddie Mercury’s extraordinary biography. Yet disappointingly, the Bovim Ballet’s production of Queen at the Ballet proved to be not quite “en pointe”.
Queen’s music is synonymous with absolute aural indulgence. Gritty guitar solos, dramatic dynamics and Freddie Mercury’s epic rock-opera vocals are what makes the prolific band timelessly moving and expertly evocative. Sadly while Cito and Daniel Fisher’s vocals were pleasing and professional they still lacked range and intensity.
Similarly the backtrack used was weak, with uninteresting musical arrangements which sapped the power from these famously powerful tracks. I longed to be swept up by the music but even though the singing was of high quality the singers were not so much channelling a rock icon as a boy band. To give them their due, taking on the music of Queen without a full live orchestra is difficult if not impossible. The redeeming point was when Magdalene Minnaar – most recently lauded as Christine in Phantom of the Opera – moved me to tears with a supple soprano that soared over the show’s concluding number ‘Barcelona’.
If Cito’s and Fisher’s vocals are Freddie-Mercury-gone-Justin-Bieber then the choreography is Queen-gone-High-School-Musical. Although they are well rehearsed and use some interesting performance techniques (in particular the use of silk suspensions and the exquisitely executed break-dancing by dancers JV Mattei and Iggy van Heerden) the dancers lack intensity and the choreography is at times one dimensional.
The audience is presented with vignettes of Mercury’s life supported by 20 of his songs. Unfortunately the assemblage of these vignettes is clumsy which, along with an awkward, vague narrative, subverts the potentially powerful dance sequences. The main focus – Mercury’s struggle with his homosexuality – is portrayed in a way that is both cheesy and unchallenging. Even the various pas de deux that portray Mercury’s relationship to his male lovers follow a shallow heteronormative pattern, missing the opportunity to subvert established conventions and thereby present audiences with an interesting commentary on gender and dance.
Equally irksome is the figure of MasterTime – a clown who indicates Mercury’s mortality and his untimely death to AIDS by constantly referring to the motif of a ticking clock. Considering the impact of Mercury’s death on what was at the time a relatively mysterious virus, this felt a shallow and ineffective metaphor.
There were some exceptional performances from Steven van Wyk who dealt with the somewhat clumsily integrated clown character with charm and grace and Tanya Futter who gave a very elegant presentation of one of Mercury’s female lovers. Gavin Rajah’s costume designs varied from the sweet wrapper to the exquisite, but were consistently interesting. On the whole, however, the production was mediocre, handicapped by safe choices and a general timidity. This was less Bohemian Rhapsody, more Radio Ga Ga.
Sean Bovim’s Queen at the Ballet runs 6 – 18 August at the Baxter Theatre.
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