Sunday, November 20, 2011


West Australian Ballet
Choreography: Jayne Smeulders
Sets and Costumes: Allan Lees
Canberra Theatre: 15th – 20th November 2011
Reviewed by Bill Stephens

The West Australian Ballet is Australia’s oldest ballet company. It makes occasional visits to Canberra, the last being with “The Red Shoes” in 2007. For this visit it’s brought a new version of the ballet classic “Cinderella”, the first full length ballet choreographed by company member, Jayne Smeulders, and the only showing of this ballet outside West Australia.

Smeulders has set her version to the Prokofiev score which she uses to great effect to craft a series of lovely airy dances to achieve a clearly focussed telling of the story using a choreographic palette that is inventive, intelligent and interesting.

Charming touches abound in this production. We first meet Cinderella at her mother’s funeral where she plants a small tree at her mother’s grave. Ten years on, her father has remarried and Cinderella is now a servant for her waspish stepmother (Allessandra D’Arbe) and two thoroughly self-indulgent stepdaughters. Her one solace is a silver birdcage, given to her by her mother, which at one point transforms into a silver coach, and later houses the crystal slipper which proves Cinderella’s presence at the ball.

Rather than have two men play the ugly sisters, Smeulders has cast two excellent dancers, Jennifer Provins and Brooke Widdison-Jacobs, both delightful comediennes, who take full advantage of the witty choreography, to create a memorably viperous, thoroughly hilarious, pair of losers.

When her father gives Cinderella a lovely old dress previously owned by her mother, the step-sisters snatch it from her and tear it in two. The spirit of her dead mother returns as a gorgeously costumed fairy god-mother (Yu Takayama) who transports Cinderella into a magical enchanted forest where she is surrounded by fantastic inhabitants including three exotic birds, (Yann Laine, Mark Dennis and Benjamin Kirkman). They present Cinderella with a beautiful gown, tiara and crystal slippers and whisk her away to the ball in the silver coach.

Andrea Parkyn (pictured) is a lovely Cinderella, delicately capturing the pathos of the early scenes, and dancing with security and openness in the ball-room scene where she had the best opportunities. Not so successful though is Milos Mutavdzic as her less than exciting prince, for while his partnering was secure and graceful, he lacked the ardour, vitality and attack usually associated with this role.

At the ball, encouraged by the stepmother, the two step-sisters try to attract the attention of the prince, who quickly delegates his two brothers to keep them away from him, leading to one delightful sequence in which the tall Provins makes ungainly attempts to dance with the Prince’s height-challenged brother, ( Andre Santos) providing some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments.

Although not all of Allen Lees impressive set would fit on to the Canberra Theatre stage, what we did see provided an appropriately sumptuous story-book fantasy ambience for the ballet. His elegant 30’s style costumes for the ball, and fantastic feathery creations for the enchanted forest added further eye-candy to a production which is a triumph for its choreographer, and a superb showcase for the West Australian Ballet.