Dance / “Cinderella”, choreographed by Ben Stevenson for Queensland Ballet, at Canberra Theatre until November 10. Reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.
IT was Ben Stevenson who discovered young ballet dancer Li Cunxin during a teaching trip to the Beijing Dance Academy. Realising the young dancer’s potential he offered him a scholarship to study with the Houston Ballet. Li Cunxin’s eventual defection to the West made worldwide headlines. Cunxin danced with the Houston Ballet for 16 years under Stevenson’s mentorship, during which time he achieved international fame as a dancer.
Since accepting the artistic directorship of the Queensland Ballet in 2012, Li Cunxin has introduced several Ben Stevenson ballets into its repertoire, in tribute to his mentor. “Cinderella” was the first, introduced by Cunxin in his inaugural season with the company in 2013.
Superbly danced to a recorded version of Prokofiev’s lush score, played by the Queensland Festival Philharmonic, conducted by Nigel Gaynor, with lavish costumes by Tracy Lord, blending beautifully with Thomas Boyd’s pretty story-book settings, this “Cinderella” is a delight to both the eyes and the ears.
Stevenson’s choreography immediately impresses with the detailed movement for each of the characters, and the clarity of the storytelling. The dances for the two step-sisters, portrayed with obvious glee by Camilo Ramos and Alexander Idaszak, are laugh-out-loud, as evidenced from the very first scene, by the gurgles of delight from the younger members of the audience. Details, as in the ballroom scene, when the prince presents each of the ladies with an orange, which the sisters take home as souvenirs to tease Cinderella the next morning, abound, to add additional spice to the story.
An exquisite dancer, Laura Hidalgo captivates as Cinderella, certainly not downtrodden by the treatment she receives from her bossy step-mother, Janette Mulligan, and step-sisters. Cinderella’s love for her father is charmingly depicted and she’s endearingly forthright as she stands up for herself, ceasing opportunities when the “Dance Master”, Patricio Reve, arrives to give dance lessons to the household in preparation for the ball.
Princes don’t come more handsome than Victor Estevez, a perfect danseur noble, whose virtuosic pas de deux with Hidalgo are accomplished with impressive bravado, while Kohei Iwamoto, as the Jester, not only dances with amazing ballon, but reveals a cheeky sense of humour shepherding the Prince at the ball, and the shoe fitting that leads to the happy-ever-after ending.
A spectacular ballroom scene provides the opportunity for the ensemble to display it’s beautifully honed technique swirling effortlessly through intricate patterns in gorgeous dark blue and white finery, while soloists, Lou Spichtig, Mia Heathcote, Neneka Yoshida, and Georgia Swan, all beautiful dancers as the four fairies, provide a tantalising glimpse of the depth of talent presently on show in this very attractive company.
“Cinderella” is the second ballet presented in Canberra by Queensland Ballet under Li Cunxin’s artistic directorship. The first was “The Nutcracker” three years ago. Given that Cunxin has announced extensive touring by the company in the future, it is hoped that more frequent visits to Canberra by this superb company will become a much anticipated reality.