By Sophie Dillon and Danaella Wivell
Cinderella by Queensland Ballet at Townsville Civic Theatre
Wednesday 1 October
There was once a frog that lived in a small, deep well. He knew nothing but the world he lived in. His well and the sky he could see above were his entire universe.
“I thought about that poor frog in the well many times. I felt sad and frustrated. We were all trapped in a well too,” the man known as Mao’s Last Dancer, Li Cunxin, said.
Li found his way out of his well through ballet. From the remote Chinese village of Qingdao to America, and now to the Australian stage as the Artistic Director of the Queensland Ballet. Li brings his unique vision from outside of the well, using the much-loved classic Cinderella, to tell a story about recognition, acknowledgement and a desperate longing for freedom.
“Cinderella holds a special place in my heart.
“Ben Stevenson’s production was one of the first ballets that I saw when I went to the West. I had tears in my eyes as I watched it – not only is the music beautiful, but the story is full of magic and joy. Fairytales embody the hopes of people, and offer wise insights into human nature.
“I’m delighted to bring this magical and extraordinary ballet to regional audiences.”
Using a myriad of established international dancers brought magic to the performance, which has made its way through regional Queensland.
The ballet opened with a set so exquisite that it looked as though it was plucked from the pages of Charles Perrault’s fairy tale.
“It can mean slight alterations and reshaping of shows, as well as adapting it to make sure it fits in the theatre to give regional audiences the best performance we can,” Cameron Goerg, Technical Supervisor of the Queensland Ballet, said.
The ugly stepsisters arrival brought an artful performance by Rian Thompson and Vito Bernasconi, which had the audience laughing out loud. Ben Stephenson, who choreographed the performance,said, “It is always wonderful for me to hear the laughter of the children in the audience.”
The opening act was primarily used to set the scene.
“In putting Cinderella on the stage I have tried to appeal to adults and children alike, from the romance of Cinderella and the Prince to the humour of the ugly stepsisters,” Stephenson said.
The elaborate scene detailing the dolling up of the ugly stepsisters for the ball allowed the costuming, by Tracy Grant-Lord, to shine. This scene was only exceeded by the entrance of the decorative horse and carriage that later appeared to take Cinderella to the ball.
Soloist Lisa Edwards delighted audiences as the ethereal fairy godmother, creating magic through movement.
As Cinderella’s godmother took her on a journey through the four seasons, Cinderella wrapped herself in a cloak and managed an impressive stage-change, from a set of rags to a regal pink tutu, complete with a tiara.
Act II featured the most dancers on stage at once, with exquisite partnered dancing stealing the show. Zach Fang stood out in both his dancing and characterisation of the jester, who deftly charmed the audience.
Moving away from the traditional story, Cinderella did not appear to be wearing her glass slippers during the second act; this led to whispering in the audience when the court jester appeared holding her forgotten shoe.
During this magnificent show of skill, it is unfortunate that there was not an orchestra to accompany. However, this was the case throughout the entire regional tour.
Act III went back to the comedia del arte-esque routines of Act I, with the ugly stepsisters fighting over the glass slipper. The fairy tale was sealed with a kiss between the Prince and Cinderella.
This memorable performance, artistically directed by Li, a man who grew up during a time when love was strictly scrutinised, showed his cultivation as a dancer and the expansion of his vision since he left his well all those years ago.
“Back in China, if I liked somebody, I had to virtually go to my political advisers [and ask] ‘May I talk about my love or my feelings to that person?’ And that person had to do the same thing.
“For me, Australia and the Australian people was love at first sight.”
Queensland Ballet Principal Dancer Clare Morehen as Cinderella 2014 [Photo David Kelly]