West Australian Ballet: Cinderella -
His Majesty’s Theatre, Friday 20 November -
Concluding a successful year for West Australian Ballet artistically, and in terms of audience support, is the company's 2011 production of Cinderella, with themes of love, hope and the reassurance of memories and dreams. Choreographed by company principal dancer Jayne Smeulders, with a mix of traditional classical and neo-classical dance, it is set to Sergei Prokofiev's music played impressively and with passion on opening night by the West Australian Philharmonic Orchestra, brilliantly led by conductor Michael Collins. Minor key atonal sections create a dissonant, jarring milieu and glorious harmonic symmetries suggest contrast and resolution. The original version of the ballet choreographed to the Prokofiev score premièred at the Bolshoi Theatre in 1945.
Allan Lees's classy costume and set designs underpin the production. Enriching Act I are 1930s glamorous attire and feathery birds, a dank graveside scene in the rain, an elegant cream and pale green interior of Cinderella's father's house with a fireplace, patterned wallpaper, large window, a “magic” mirror for entrances, and an “enchanted” garden. In Act II, a decorative front curtain creates a guests' entrance to the ball and the Royal Palace's ornate pillars and chandeliers provide a fitting setting for more glamorous gowns. Jon Buswell's transforming fairy-tale lighting creates ever-changing skies, clouds, moonlit starry nights, an enormous moon and golden stars bedecking the stage.
The role of Cinderella is Brooke Widdison-Jacobs's first since returning after the birth of her daughter. She was an appealing, vulnerable yet hopeful Cinderella and after initial tenseness, performed her solos well and soared through the final magical midnight pas de deux.
Prince Charming Matthew Lehmann was applauded for his regal entrance in the second act, and danced and partnered “charmingly” throughout. His strong comic abilities shone in his interactions with the step-sisters and his brothers, and he established a heart-warming, romantic connection with Cinderella.
Florence Leroux-Coléno as the omnipresent, all-embracing Fairy Godmother was chic and beautiful in her touching flashback appearance as Cinderella's mother telling the story of three magical birds Faith Hope and Charity, then resplendent in a sparkling white diamond-studded tutu and tiara holding a shimmering wand. Leroux-Coléno danced exquisitely with lovely arabesques, an expansive plasticity in her upper body and flowing port de bras. This role is integral to the production, embodying the qualities of faith hope and charity.
The step-sisters (Sarah Hepburn and Melissa Boniface) almost stole the show, especially when Boniface tap-danced on pointe. The “ugliness” is in their characters and their behaviour – think younger and less forgivable versions of Patsy from Ab Fab. While some of the antics in their treatment of Cinderella and their desperate pursuit of Prince Charming are outrageous, they were also very funny to many in the audience, although at times during Act I the volume of stage activity became distracting.
The girls' step-mother (another excellent performance from Polly Hilton) is modish, scheming and malicious; Prince Charming's brothers, the young princes (Sergey Pevnev and Andre Santos), are a clever addition, providing (unwilling) partners for the step-sisters at the ball, lots of delightful dancing and numerous comical moments.
Memorable scenes include the melancholy opening graveside scene with young Cinderella placing a flower on her mother's grave, solos for three dancing birds representing Faith, Hope and Charity (Alessio Scognamiglio, Liam Green and Christopher Hill all excellent), and a splendid silvery coach circling the stage to take Cinderella to the ball. The transition from child Cinderella to adult is thoughtfully realised and the final joyous pas de deux flows effortlessly, with a spiralling, overhead lift a spectacular climax.
West Australian Ballet has staged many new productions of Cinderella since the first in 1954. These one-off seasons are costly and it is prudent for artistic director Aurélien Scannella to re-program Cinderella for this Christmas season, a decision clearly endorsed by a vocal, appreciative audience.
Cinderella closes 13 December. Photos: Emma Fishwick. Click on thumbnails for captions.