Cinderella. Queensland Ballet

5 November 2019, Canberra Theatre

Below is a expanded version of my review for The Canberra Times of Queensland Ballet’s Cinderella. The online version of that review is at this link.

  • Cinderella. Queensland Ballet. Choreographer: Ben Stevenson. Composer: Sergei Prokofiev. Designers: Thomas Boyd (sets), Tracy Grant Lord (costumes), David Walters (lighting). Canberra Theatre, until November 10.

Queensland Ballet’s Cinderella tells the familiar story of the young girl whose step-mother and step-sisters have reduced her existence to that of their servant, but whose life is transformed by a fairy godmother and a prince whom she meets at a royal ball. Choreographed by English-born, American resident Ben Stevenson, currently director of Texas Ballet Theater, this version of Cinderella is great family fun. Its old-style pantomime scenes have the audience laughing out loud throughout the entire course of the production, while its fairy-like moments and glittering ballroom scenes evoke palpable pleasure.

The panto elements are largely the realm of the two step-sisters played by Camilo Ramos as Ugly Sister Short and Alexander Idaszak as Ugly Sister Tall. Dressed outrageously, most memorably in extravagant pink outfits for the ball, they trip, totter and tumble their way through the story, pushing and shoving the long-suffering Cinderella (Laura Hidalgo) until in the end they are forced to curtsey to her as she becomes a princess. Ramos and Idaszak are joined in their treatment of Cinderella by Janette Mulligan as the Step Mother who is not at all innocent in her treatment of Cinderella. In fact she is decidedly nasty at times and occasionally turns her back on Cinderella and gives a sneering laugh.

Camilo Ramos as Ugly Sister Short in Ben Stevenson's 'Cinderella'. Queensland Ballet. Photo: © David Kelly
Camilo Ramos as Ugly Sister Short in Ben Stevenson’s Cinderella. Queensland Ballet, 2018. Photo: © David Kelly

But if Stevenson has drawn the step-family as lacking in a certain degree of humanity, he presents Cinderella as a young girl filled with love and compassion. She supports her Father (Ari Thompson) when he is set upon by his wife and step-children, and she welcomes a mysterious, black-clad stranger into the family home, and sits her by the fire and offers her food, when Cinderella’s step-family wants nothing to do with her (shades of a scene from Act I of La Sylphide?). This stranger is in fact the Fairy Godmother (Yanela Piñera) in disguise and her true identity is revealed when the black cloak drops away to reveal the purity of a Fairy Godmother dressed in white and wearing a sparkling tiara. Cinderella undergoes a transformation at the hands of the Godmother and goes to the royal ball where she meets her Prince (Victor Estévez). And so the familiar story continues until the happy pair is united. And of course the ballet includes the scene where the step-sisters try to squash their feet into the shoe that Cinderella leaves behind at the ball when the clock strikes midnight. More slapstick humour!

As we have come to expect from Queensland Ballet the dancing was exceptional. A standout performer was Kohei Iwamoto as the Jester at the ball. His leaps in the air with legs extended in splits to the side drew applause and his presence was consistently strong as he moved among the guests. The four fairies, Spring (Lou Spichtig), Summer (Mia Heathcote), Autumn (Neneka Yoshida), and Winter (Georgia Swan), who help Cinderella make her transformation into her costume for the ball, also danced their variations with panache and admirable technique.

Neneka Yoshida as the Autumn Fairy in Ben Stevenson’s Cinderella. Queensland Ballet, 2018. Photo: © David Kelly

Cinderella’s solo the morning after the ball was full of joy, despite having to use a broom rather than a prince as her partner! But perhaps the choreographic highlight was the pas de deux between the Prince and Cinderella after the Prince had discovered that Cinderella was the owner of the shoe left behind at the ball. Beautifully lit by David Walters to bring out the romance of the situation, this pas de deux was filled with lyricism and swirling lifts.

Stevenson’s Cinderella is very much in an old-style format, which may not appeal to some. But the pleasure it brings to so many others, young and old, makes it an evergreen show. Queensland Ballet always gives us outstanding dancing and strong production values, and I loved the way many of the dancers maintained their characterisations during the curtain calls.

  • Disclaimer: I had a family member in the children’s cast for this production of Cinderella.

Michelle Potter, 6 November 2019

Featured image: Laura Hidalgo as Cinderella. Queensland Ballet 2019. Photo supplied

Liam Geck as the Jester in ‘Cinderella’ Queensland Ballet, 2018. Photo:David Kelly

Cinderella. Queensland Ballet

7 September 2018. Lyric Theatre, Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Brisbane

Ben Stevenson’s Cinderella, which Queensland Ballet performed in its latest season, was first made in 1970, almost 50 years ago. I’m afraid it is showing its age a little. While Queensland Ballet’s dancers go from strength to strength every time I see them, I think they need something more powerful to dance than this Cinderella. Perhaps there is an issue here too in that Alexi Ratmansky’s Cinderella, in which the story has been given a new touch, has had several showings in Australia recently and is due to be seen in Sydney again shortly.

Having had my first professional engagements in pantomime, it was interesting, however, to see the way Stevenson built the Stepsisters (Vito Bernasconi and Camilo Ramos) into the show—outrageous behaviour, over the top costumes, pratfalls everywhere, and of course the roles taken by men. But this kind of acting/dancing belongs to the 1960s (and earlier) when it was a panto tradition. We have moved on a little.

Vito Bernasconi as a Stepsister in Cinderella. Queensland Ballet, 2018. Photo: David Kelly

Vito Bernasconi as a Stepsister in Cinderella. Queensland Ballet, 2018. Photo: © David Kelly

But on the whole the ballet was nicely danced. Liam Geck as the Jester in the ball scene was outstanding but, again, a jester is such an old-fashioned tradition, this time from Russia. So while his performance was spectacular it was frustrating that there was a jester in there. Why?

All the fairies, Spring (Lina Kim), Summer (Mia Heathcote), Autumn (Neneka Yoshida) and Winter (Georgia Swan), acquitted themselves beautifully, as did Yanela Piñera as Cinderella. Joel Woellner was a very traditional Prince.

Yanela Pinera as Cinderella. Queensland Ballet, 2018. Photo: © David Kelly

Yanela Piñera as Cinderella. Queensland Ballet, 2018. Photo: © David Kelly

This Cinderella is not my favourite ballet. But it did please most of the people in the audience.

Michelle Potter, 12 September 2018

Featured image: Liam Geck as the Jester in Cinderella. Queensland Ballet, 2018. Photo: © David Kelly

Liam Geck as the Jester in ‘Cinderella’ Queensland Ballet, 2018. Photo:David Kelly

David Hallberg in costume for the Prince in 'Cinderella'. Photo: Wendell Teodoro, 2013

David Hallberg. The charming Prince

14 December 2019, Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House

My thoughts on David Hallberg’s guest appearance with the Australian Ballet in Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella were posted on DanceTabs on 16 December 2013. Below is the text. The DanceTabs link is still available and includes 11 comments that were made on the story by readers.

When David Hallberg was a child his inspiration to dance initially came from Fred Astaire whose old Hollywood movies Hallberg loved to watch. He admits he was obsessed. In those days he didn’t own a pair of tap shoes so, when Halloween was approaching, he attached coins to his shoes and tapped as a trick or treat act. Hallberg went on to take formal tap and jazz classes but it was not long before ballet drew him into a new dance world. His ballet teacher in Phoenix, Arizona, was Kee Juan Han, who recognised his talent but told him that it needed to be shaped. He was thirteen. There were no other boys in his ballet class but he persisted, nurtured by Han, and now, with his beautifully proportioned body, extraordinary feet, and easy, fluid technique he is the epitome of the danseur noble.

Hallberg has been in Sydney, Australia, guesting with the Australian Ballet as the Prince in Alexei Ratmanky’s new take on Cinderella, a production that was reviewed earlier in 2013 in DanceTabs. In this Cinderella the Prince makes his appearance early on in Act II, the ball scene. There is a huge build up to his entrance. The Prince’s four friends, who are in fact his minders, attempt to clear centre stage of guests; those guests engage excitedly with each other; and the Stepmother and her two daughters, Skinny and Dumpy, try to push themselves forward. The Prince arrives dressed in an elegant white suit with a tuxedo-style jacket worn over a smart vest. His entrance begins with a spectacular diagonal of grands jetés, and Hallberg’s entrance drew gasps and shouts of ‘bravo’ from the audience. His magnificently stretched jetés soared through the air, seemingly without effort. The perfectly placed grands pirouettes that followed whipped around in spectacular fashion, and the entrechats sprinkled throughout his solo were quite the most perfect examples of that step that I have seen. 

Hallberg played the role of the Prince in a very royal manner. He was slightly imperious as he gave orders to his entourage and, while he greeted his guests at the ball in a charming manner, he was regally distant. Similarly, although when he first saw Cinderella, danced by Australian Ballet principal Amber Scott, he was instantly attracted to her, there was still something withdrawn about his reaction to her. There were moments when he seemed to me to be more like the Prince in a traditional Swan Lake Act I rather than a character in a twenty-first century reimagining of an old story.

Hallberg is no stranger to Ratmansky’s work. He has appeared in at least five others of his works and next year he will dance in Lost Illusions with the Bolshoi Ballet. Of working with Ratmansky, Hallberg says: ‘He is so clever. I love the nuances in his work. He has his signatures but he is so relevant, so of his era’. So Hallberg’s choice to play the Prince in a manner that was at odds with how the rest of the cast handled Ratmansky’s creation is a curious one. It is especially so because Hallberg says that when he is not in the theatre he loves to see other art and that his particular taste is for the contemporary. Hallberg’s dancing was, of course, stunning to watch. I especially admired his dancing in the scene where he travels the world looking for the owner of the glitzy shoe. Much of Ratmansky’s choreography for this section is full of lightning-fast moves that often change direction quickly and Hallberg threw himself into it with gusto. And his several pas de deux with Scott had an incredible lyricism. But to do full justice to Ratmansky’s reimagining of the story, this Cinderella needs a less classical reading than the one Hallberg gave us.

As a result the evening fell a little flat, especially as Scott’s portrayal of Cinderella lacked the sparkle and individualism that marked performances by Leanne Stojmenov, on whom the role was created.  There were some stellar performances from others in the cast, especially Amy Harris as the Stepmother who let fly with her tantrums when her hairdresser failed to live up to her expectations, or when the shoe didn’t fit. But the work does need the Prince to be a strong, contemporary character. Despite the fact that he is royalty, his behaviour has to fit the contemporary mood of the ballet.

In many respects it is a shame that Sydney was chosen as the city to host Hallberg, despite the fact that Sydney clearly offers great photo opportunities. The inadequacies of the stage of the Joan Sutherland Theatre in the Sydney Opera House are well known. The stage is small and is short on wing space, and that’s even before we get to the orchestra pit, which is partly underneath the stage and is the bane of musical directors and orchestral players. Ratmansky’s Cinderella looked cramped in Sydney compared with the magical and mesmerising effect it had on the bigger Melbourne stage. However, it perhaps would not have made a difference had Hallberg danced in Melbourne. Space was not the major issue.  

Hallberg gave his last show in Sydney on 14 December and then flew out to Paris to make his debut with the Paris Opera Ballet. I thought he missed the point of Ratmansky’s take on Cinderella. But it will take me a long while to get over those astonishing entrechats.

Michelle Potter, 16 December 2013

Featured image: David Hallberg in costume for the Prince in Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella. The Australian Ballet, 2013. Photo: © Wendell Teodoro

David Hallberg in costume for the Prince in 'Cinderella'. Photo: Wendell Teodoro, 2013

 

 

Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella. A second look

7 December 2013 (matinee), Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House

Taking a second look at Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella was something of a swings and roundabouts experience. The gains were special, the losses of course a little disappointing.

Seeing Leanne Stojmenov as Cinderella and Daniel Gaudiello as the Prince after they had performed those roles over and over in Melbourne and again in the first few Sydney shows indicated how well they had grown into their parts. Their pas de deux in particular were seamless, expressive and beautifully executed with hardly a slip anywhere. Gaudiello once again showed what an exceptional artist he is as he fell head over heels for his Cinderella, and what a good technician he is as well.

Daniel Gaudiello in Cinderella. The Australian Ballet, 2013. Photo: Jeff Busby

Daniel Gaudiello as the Prince in Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella. The Australian Ballet 2013. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Stojmenov’s dancing showed how much she had absorbed the choreography into her very being. The beautiful way in which she conveyed the subtlety and nuances of Ratmansky’s vocabulary was an absolute delight. In particular she had captured the beauty and fluidty of Ratmansky’s arm movements with their distinctive swing and sway through space, and I also especially enjoyed her solo in the last act where she recalled the time she had with her Prince at the ball in the previous act.

I was also interested to hear David McAllister, in his public program conversation with David Hallberg after the show, that Ratmansky used the word ‘say’ rather than ‘do’ when setting his choreography on the dancers—‘you go over there and say such and such’. His emphasis on expression rather than simply execution is a sure reason why all the cast, but Stojmenov in particular, carry the storyline of Cinderella so well.

Another gain was seeing Eloise Fryer—there was an unexpected cast change announced just before the curtain went up—as the Dumpy Stepsister. She has a terrific sense of comedy and carried off the awkward and often hilarious choreography with great style. It was a huge romp and Ingrid Gow as the Skinny Stepsister really had to work hard to keep up with her.

The biggest loss was having to fit the show onto the stage of the Opera Theatre. I try not to make too many comments in this vein as it does nothing in the end. But in the case of Cinderella it resulted in a real loss I thought. The theatrical trick of a proscenium arch within a proscenium arch that was so clear in Melbourne was scarcely apparent in Sydney and the crammed-up feeling of the domestic scenes was unfortunate. And, while memory plays tricks I know, it seemed to me that Gaudiello’s choreography had been cut in the scenes where he travels the world searching for the owner of the slipper. Maybe I just missed some of those grands jetes in a circle and the spectacular finish where he jumped into the arms of his cortege of male friends. I’d be more than happy to be corrected!

I also missed Lynette Wills as the Fairy Godmother. While Jasmin Durham did a perfectly good job in the role, Wills brought a wide experience to her performance giving the role a strength of characterisation and sense of mystery that was missing in Sydney. I had also been looking forward to seeing once more those characters from the solar system who transport Cinderella to the ball but, while being closer had its advantages, the costumes are quite remarkable, being closer also made the sequence look a little too jumbled—too many characters that were too hard to identify individually.

But more than anything I thought the magical transformations that made the Melbourne opening so spectacular were lessened in Sydney. I was further back in the auditorium in Melbourne so maybe that had an effect but I suspect it was something else.

Nevertheless, Cinderella remains in my mind a very classy, strongly European-looking, beautifully-lit production that I look forward to seeing again and again.

Michelle Potter, 8 December 2013

My original post, and a healthy variety of comments from others, is at this link. See also my comments on David Hallberg’s performance as the Prince published by DanceTabs.

 

Leanne Stojmenov and Daniel Gaudiello in 'Cinderella'. Photo Jeff Busby

Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella. The Australian Ballet (2013)

19 September 2013, State Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre

What a magical, mesmerising and eccentrically beautiful Cinderella Alexei Ratmansky has created for the Australian Ballet. I have to admit to goose bumps on many occasions so thrilling was the storytelling, the choreography, the scenic design and the performance.

The story we know so well is intact in its outlines but Ratmansky has made the work his own, and boldly so. The clues we get to the era in which this ballet is set come largely from the set and costumes by Jérôme Kaplan and from the projection design by Wendall K. Harrington. With their references to surrealist artists such as Salvador Dali and Giorgio de Chirico, and even perhaps to a Dada film, Fernand Leger’s Ballet mécanique, and the Bauhaus work by Oskar Schlemmer, Triadic Ballet, we can place this Cinderella in the 1920s or 1930s. But the universality and theatricality of the visual elements, including the Act I setting of a proscenium arch within the theatre’s own proscenium arch, put it into an era beyond eras.

Leanne Stojmenov in Cinderella, 2013. Photo Jeff Busby

Leanne Stojmenov in Cinderella. The Australian Ballet, 2013. Photo: © Jeff Busby

As Cinderella, Leanne Stojmenov brought a range of emotions to the role. She was lost in dreams as she danced alone while the Stepsisters readied themselves for the Prince’s ball; full of sadness when the Stepmother slashed the portrait of her now dead mother; caring as she welcomed the somewhat outlandish Fairy Godmother into her home; shy as she tried out dance steps at the ball; pensive as she wondered whether she would meet the Prince again; and ultimately joyous as she danced the final pas de deux with him. It was a finely sculpted performance.

As the Prince, Daniel Gaudiello also presented us with a well-defined character with a strong personality. Dressed stylishly in a white suit he was the man in charge as he interacted with his guests and as he travelled the world seeking the owner of the slipper left behind at the ball. On this world tour we saw some of Gaudiello’s best dancing. A series of grands pirouettes finishing with multiple turns was beautifully executed. And what a spectacular exit he made as he left the stage at the end of that scene. But with his Cinderella he was a different man, much less hard-edged. And the final pas de deux is such a glorious piece of choreography. Two two bodies move together as one, bending and twisting, making complementary lines with arms and legs, and finishing so softly and gently.

At times the choreography was surprising as is so often the case with Ratmansky. Feet, arms, upper bodies, everything really, moved in unexpected ways. A pirouette had the foot at the cou de pied position, a cabriole appeared from nowhere, bodies bent forward when one expected them to bend back. And Ratmansky is a master at telling the story, creating a character, and giving clues to and motifs for future moments in the story through choreographic and dramatic methods. I wondered why the Fairy Godmother, played with style by Lynette Wills wearing a kind of bowler hat, long dark clothing and black glasses, disappeared into the grandfather clock in Cinderella’s house. But it became clear later. And the beautiful swirl of black-caped figures, holding Roman numerals and circling the stage as the Fairy Godmother advised Cinderella to leave the ball at midnight, was also reprised in a surprising way later.

Leanne Stojmenov and Lynette Wills in 'Cinderella'. The Australian Ballet, 2013. Photo: Jeff Busby
Leanne Stojmenov and Lynette Wills in Cinderella. The Australian Ballet, 2013. Photo: Jeff Busby

There were some wonderful performances from others in the cast. Ingrid Gow and Hailana Hills as the Skinny Stepsister and the Dumpy Stepsister respectively had some hilarious moments, as did Amy Harris as the rather vindictive Stepmother. I also admired the performances of the celestial bodies who transport Cinderella to the ball (no pumpkin coach in this production), although it was hard to identify the dancers from where I was sitting and another viewing is needed to match some of the various planets represented with their costumes.

Artists of the Australian Ballet in 'Cinderella' 2013. Photo: Jeff Busby

The Stepmother, the Skinny Stepsister and the Dumpy Stepsister have their hair done for the ball. Artists of the Australian Ballet in Cinderella 2013. Photo: © Jeff Busby

As for the scenic transformations, they were astonishing, breathtaking. It was not only the surprise they generated when they happened, but also the way the lighting by Rachel Burke was used to enhance every transformation, as well as the spectacular use of fabric of various kinds to assist the transformations—in fact the use of diverse fabric textures throughout the ballet in costuming and elsewhere gave us yet another magnificent scenic element. And musically, I have never heard the Prokofiev score sound so clear and so distinctive. Without wanting to take away from the orchestral playing, Ratmansky’s choreography is so attuned to the music that it adds a visual element to the sounds that allows me at least to hear the music differently.

I look forward to seeing this remarkable work again during the Sydney season. Let’s hope it remains in the repertoire for a long time to come. It is sheer magic, brilliantly conceived, and a truly immersive experience. All hail Ratmansky and his team.

Michelle Potter, 21 September 2013

Featured image: Leanne Stojmenov and Daniel Gaudiello in Cinderella. The Australian Ballet, 2013. Photo: © Jeff Busby

Leanne Stojmenov and Daniel Gaudiello in 'Cinderella'. Photo Jeff Busby

For my comments after a second viewing in Sydney follow this link. See also my comments on David Hallberg’s performance as the Prince published by DanceTabs.

Cinderella by two: some thoughts

West Australian Ballet’s Cinderella, newly created this year, had a season in Canberra in November and its popularity was such that an extra show needed to be scheduled. I had certain expectations, having spoken previously to the artistic director of WAB, the choreographer and the designer before writing a preview piece for The Canberra Times. All spoke eloquently about the process of creation and their aspirations for the piece.

But when it came to the performance itself I have to say I was heartily disappointed. While I enjoyed the design by Allan Lees, which set the work in the 1930s, I thought the choreography, by Jayne Smeulders, was scant and quite simplistic. There were many moments when the stage (and I’m talking here about the much-maligned stage of the Canberra Theatre, which is reputed to be too small for the larger kind of ballet production) seemed positively empty of dancing. Not only that, or perhaps because of that, the dancers rarely looked as though they were full-scale professional dancers.

Wherever I have worked in my journalistic dance writing life to date there has always been a policy in place that the person who writes the preview does not write the review of the same piece. My experience with WAB’s Cinderella hammered home the sense behind that policy. But seeing this Cinderella made me wonder about another newly created Cinderella, that by Meryl Tankard for Leipzig Ballet. It opened in Leipzig on 5 November.

Unfortunately I have neither spoken to Tankard about the work nor seen it but the web at least allowed me to catch a glimpse of some images, a bit of footage and snatches of an interview with Tankard about the work. I was interested in Tankard’s answer to a question posed to her by Maeshelle West-Davies from the Leipzig Zeitgeist about why she chose Cinderella and what she thought she could bring to the work. Part of her reply said:

‘Since I am quite used to spending a lot of my time on long trips to and from Australia, I decided to use this experience in Cinderella. The story begins in an airport with Cinderella, and the very ‘glamorous!’ sisters, travelling to an exotic location for a huge party hosted by a wealthy prince. A lot of the scenes will be in ‘hotel rooms’ and the garden scene has been influenced by Sydney’s beautiful botanical gardens. I would like the audience to feel as if they have also been on big trip!’

As thought-provoking too was her reply to a question concerning her process, which seems somewhat different from her process with many of her works made in Australia:

‘I had to be very well organised for Cinderella. I didn’t get much time with the dancers, as they were rehearsing a lot for other productions. I also had to make a lot of decisions about editing the music very early on, so I had to have a clear structure before I began working with the dancers. Since Cinderella is a very well-known story, I had to come up with a new and original way to tell the tale. I approached it as if I were planning a film and storyboarded all the scenes before I arrived in Leipzig.’

A trailer available on YouTube gives a glimpse of the choreography and the design, including the kinds of projections we have come to recognise as signature Tankard/Lansac. Some of the lighting and projections reminded me of sections of Wild Swans, which is not a bad thing in my opinion. I often ponder how Wild Swans the ballet has pretty much slipped from view whereas Elena Kats-Chernin’s delicious score, or parts of it, are heard often. Such is dance I guess.

It seems unlikely that we will see Tankard’s Cinderella in Australia, at least not in the near future. It sounds and looks (at least from a brief glimpse) as though it might be an engrossing take on the fairy-tale. But am I falling into the same trap as I did with WAB’s Cinderella? Such are expectations.

Michelle Potter, 4 December 2011