Karralyka Centre, Ringwood
Victoria now has a number of ballet companies providing local metropolitan and regional areas a chance to enjoy both full-length classical productions as well as original contemporary works. These companies often have ambitious touring programs, allowing for affordable and local exposure to dance. Last week gave us the opportunity to see two companies in suburban Melbourne, Victorian State Ballet (formerly Melbourne Dance Theatre) and DanceBourne Arts (see our review elsewhere on this website), each offering very different models for bringing dance to dance lovers.
Victorian State Ballet (VSB) staged a large cast production of Cinderella. It combined a core of over 20 company artists with a similar number of “Young Ballet Artists” (as the program named them) who were recruited for this production via email and social media.
VSB’s Cinderella offered some strong elements and dancing from the company. Characterisation and artistry were evident and generally a good audience connection was maintained. Lead dancers Mia Wallace and Michael Braun were technically accomplished - Braun’s clean jumps and stamina carried him through the nicely executed grand allegro. Wallace displayed a sweet personality and a clean technique with lovely arabesque lines. Cinderella’s stepmother and sisters were fun - the sisters (Elise Watson-Lord and Elise Jacques) bringing a perky and impertinent air to their bumbling antics. The stepmother (Rebekah Petty) was differentiated by her slightly more knowing malevolence. Of note also were the fairy couples - all danced with assurance and nicely characterised.
This production, however, had some significant flaws. The most problematic was the inclusion of a fleet of youngsters. They seemed to have been slotted in after the fact and generally performed no clear function. They were almost in the way. They did not appear particularly well rehearsed and were superfluous to the narrative. At times their presence halted the progress of the story and distracted attention from soloists (the Fairy Godmother was, at one stage, entirely overwhelmed by a swarm of children).
I strongly question the inclusion of novice dancers in a performance that bills itself as professional. Indeed VSB claims to be “Victoria’s premier ballet company”, making the inclusion of these children at odds with the gravitas of its intention. I would even say that this could be seen as undermining the professionalism of those experienced dancers striving to build credible professional careers and using VSB as an opportunity to perform.
This is not to say that children with demonstrable ability should never be featured in professional performances; rather, it is to say that amateur dancers should not be used as “padding”. Those young dancers chosen to portray the young Cinderella, Prince and step sisters brought solid dance qualities to their roles - but these roles seemed to be a contrivance rather than a necessity.
Other elements that were less than professional included the acting roles, which were poorly performed. Additionally, no program credit was given to Prokofiev’s wonderful score, and most of the choreographic credit was given to the assistant director of the company, Michelle Cassar De Sierra, with only passing mention of the choreographic legacy that supports her work. Even the program was poorly written and lacked editing. When claiming to be professional, one is held to a higher standard than otherwise - and judged accordingly in all aspects.
Victorian State Ballet is a very lofty title and one deserving of a fully professional company. There is a great deal of good work evident behind this production of Cinderella but one has to question the company's claim to fully professional status.
– SUSAN BENDALL
Top: Michael Braun as the Prince and Mia Wallace as Cinderella.
Photo: RON FUNG