Dancing in the moonlight
The dancer's shoe swept across the stage; a graceful arc traced by the sound of sand on canvas.
You could see the flex of tendon under the satin ballet ribbon. The tremor of a long held lift. The first blush of sweat.
This was no row double M, nose bleeding up-in-the-Gods ballet experience. It was a dusk performance of four classic fairy tales by the Australian ballet at the opulent qualia - one of Australia's top 10 hotels - on Hamilton Island.
And we were metres from the dancers.
Eight inches of overnight rain had seen the stage hastily relocated from the horizon on the resort's infinity pool looking over Pebble Beach to a giant marquee draped in coral coloured roses by the sands of Catseye Beach.
Ballet companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to recreate the natural world, here nature becomes the stage.
There are no props or scenery. Just spot-lit dancers in costume on a white stage.
Under the direction of the Australian Ballet's artistic director David McAllister, four principal dancers performed pas de deux from La Sylphide, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and The Nut Cracker.
The audience numbered in the hundreds. No one was more than 30 metres away. Intimacy was the theme.
The world-class luxury location and the weekend of ballet was designed that way.
It featured a millinery "master class" with head milliner Vicki Car to talk through the costuming and the chance to be walked through a barre or morning warm-up class led by McAllister.
The artistic director was initially very sceptical when the approach came to do a pas de deux at Hamilton Island. "We're a ballet company, we don't do corporate," was McAllister's first reaction.
The company's first performance there was 2007. They have been back every year since.
But as arts companies go outdoors to broaden their reach (think here of the Opera Australia's performance of Madama Butterfly on the harbour) McAllister believes the performance allows people to get closer to what ballet really is.
"People of don't realise when they see a stage performance actually what else goes on," he says.
"It adds incredible value to what we do."
Stripped of elaborate staging, it is the intimacy of the dances that McAllister plays to. He tells of an outdoor performance of Giselle in Darwin in 2006.
Just as Giselle was doing her mad scene, an owl flew across the stage with a screaming rodent in its mouth. "The world of nature was mimicking what we were doing on stage ... those sort of things can only happen in outdoor venues."
And qualia itself is a venue in its own class. Behind the Jurassic Park-style doors to the resort, it is a manicured tropical world/country club (complete with complimentary electric golf buggy) perched on the Whitsunday passage.
Our pavilion is a fragrant, calm-inducing indulgence offering privacy and sweeping views. And it confirmed one of my travel rules that you can rate a hotel simply by the quality of the bed.
The Beach House pavilions, at 240 square metres, are bigger than some houses I have lived in.
There was much I didn't get the chance to do, water sports, morning yoga on the beach, spa treatments - but my fixation became the exquisite plunge pool at Pebble Beach.
Following the performance, the luxurious Long Pavilion at qualia, with its infinity pool (into which an unsuspecting guest plunged at a function the previous night) was the venue for dinner with the dancers.
The menu was prepared by Scottish executive chef Alastair Waddell (heirloom tomato gazpacho with mozzarella ice-cream and Pyrenees lamb).
The crowd mingled with the dancers. Yachting legend and Hamilton Island owner Bob Oatley mingled with the crowd while McAllister was kept busy signing pairs of ballet shoes souvenired from the table decorations.
To finish the evening ballet fans had their chance to grill the dancers.
Topics ranged from the number of shoes used per week (five or six) to how long you can take a break from dancing (one day off nobody notices, two days you notice, three days everybody notices).
Husband and wife pair Daniel Gaudiello and Lana Jones took most of the questions.
"I can't fool these people. The ones who are at Qualia, they know ballet," Gaudiello says.
"It felt intimate, it is special."
The writer was a guest of Hamilton Island.
FIVE MORE OUTDOOR ARTS EVENTS IN AUSTRALIA THIS YEAR
SANTOS SYMPHONY UNDER THE STARS Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, free event, today at 8pm, Elder Park; see aso.com.au
WOMADELAIDE Botanic Park, Adelaide, The World's Festival, March 6-9, see womadelaide.com.au.
OPERA IN THE VINEYARD Opera Queensland, Ballandean, May 3; see ballandeanestate.com
OPERA UNDER THE STARS: BROOME
August 30 at 8pm, Cable Beach Amphitheatre, Broome; see operaunderthestars.com.au
OUTDOOR OPERA NOOSA Lake Macdonald Amphitheatre, Noosa Botanic Gardens, August 31; see operatif.com.au
Jetstar, Qantas and Virgin Australia all operate direct flights from Sydney to Hamilton Island.
Booking a direct flight, rather than stopping in Brisbane, can save hours of extra travel time.
STAYING THERE Qualia, 20 Whitsunday Boulevard, Hamilton Island 20 Whitsunday Boulevard
October rates start from about A$995 ($1060) a night (min two nights) for a 90 square metre Leeward Pavillion to A$3800 944054) a night for a 240 square metre Beach House.
Pas de deux in paradise, October 31 - November 2, 2014; see hamiltonisland.com.au.