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 Grant 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 for 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 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. 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 during 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. Soloists, Lou Spichtig, Mia Heathcote, Neneka Yoshida, and Georgia Swan, beautiful dancers all, 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.
Canberra Theatre Centre, London Circuit, Canberra
Performance: Tuesday 5 November 2019 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 10 November 2019
For more information, visit: www.queenslandballet.com.au for details.
Image: Laura Hidalgo and Artists of the Queensland Ballet in Cinderella (supplied)
Review: Bill Stephens OAM