By Deborah Jones
Queensland Ballet’s premiere of Ben Stevenson’s Swan Lake had a 42nd Street quality to it as junior company member Joel Woellner was chosen to dance Prince Siegfried alongside principal artist Yanela Piñera’s seasoned Odette-Odile.
Piñera laid out her credentials within seconds of taking to the stage with a pure, extended balance on pointe that was an eloquent expression of the Swan Queen’s sorrow and entrapment. As the imposter Odile, she decorated the treacherous (for some; not her) fouetté sequence with triple pirouettes and gave a magisterial account of her solo. Havana-born Piñera, who previously danced with the National Ballet of Cuba, nailed the big effects that seem to be a Cuban birthright, including sky-high extensions and Odile’s don’t-mess-with-me grand pirouettes in Act 3. It was the delicate detail that lingered, however. Piñera’s tiny flutters of foot against ankle as Odette in Act 2 were exquisite.
Woellner went out on the stage a courageous youngster, but had to come back a star, or at least as close to one as possible. Although the desperate, deep-seated passion that should drive Siegfried eluded him, resulting in a muted relationship with Odette, there was, nevertheless, gleaming beauty in almost all his dancing. Double tours were plush and precisely landed, and lovely air turns finished in stretched, poised arabesques. It was impressive to see how much value he gave each moment, never smudging or cutting steps short. He was promptly promoted to the rank of demi-soloist after his final performance.
Stevenson’s version was made for Houston Ballet in 1985 (Queensland Ballet artistic director Li Cunxin danced in it at that time) and is a conventional reading based on the 1895 Petipa-Ivanov staging. The beating heart of Swan Lake is the first lakeside act in which Siegfried comes across Odette and her retinue of swan maidens, here a corps of 24 that sensibly incorporated the two Big Swans and four Cygnets. The group, augmented by Queensland Ballet Academy pre-professional students, looked beautifully schooled and had the strength-in-unity power that makes Act 2 so captivating.
The fit wasn’t always exact between Stevenson’s vision and the luxurious, Renaissance-tinged designs by Kristian Fredrikson borrowed from Royal New Zealand Ballet. The white acts looked wonderful, of course, but in the first and fourth acts it wasn’t always easy to get a grip on all-important distinctions of rank.
Also, with the production coming in at under two hours of dancing, Tchaikovsky’s music sounded chopped back, to its detriment, although the Queensland Symphony Orchestra under Queensland Ballet music director Nigel Gaynor delivered a sympathetic account of what was there. Transcendence may have been hard to come by, but there was plenty of fine dancing from the first cast, particularly from Lucy Green, Lina Kim and Victor Estévez as they whizzed and fizzed through the Act 1 pas de trois.
English National Ballet’s Alina Cojocaru had been slated to return to Queensland Ballet as a guest artist but withdrew due to her pregnancy. It is a measure of the high regard in which Li is held that he was able to replace her for two performances with Bolshoi Ballet principal artist Evgenia Obraztsova.
In Perth, West Australian Ballet was uneven in its Don Quixote, a slimmed-down staging created in 2010 by Lucette Aldous, a celebrated Kitri in her day. It was mostly effective theatrically, albeit with one big, regrettable loss. Don Quixote’s reverie, in which he sees lively village girl Kitri as his beloved Dulcinea, was ruthlessly pared back to feature only the leading characters and a limited amount of magic.
Some patchy performances in secondary roles didn’t help the cause. Don Quixote is all fluff and high spirits — a fantasy rom-com that needs to be kept aloft with zesty personalities and confident attack wherever you look.
At the first performance, principal dancers Chihiro Nomura (Kitri) and Gakuro Matsui (impecunious barber Basilio) were sweet, charming lovers whose appeal was that of light playing on dappled leaves. Nomura and Matsui are both finely tuned classicists — and Matsui is a fine partner — who made light work of the barrage of small beaten steps and flurries of manèges and pirouettes that kept the principals very busy indeed.
In the second cast, Florence Leroux-Coléno and Cuban-trained newcomer Oscar Valdés, both soloists, brought the heat of the midday sun to the stage with a knowing and vivacious account of Kitri and Basilio. At times, Valdés’ dash trumped finesse, but his ebullience and daring were exciting and he was well matched with Leroux-Coléno, whose good humour and spark made her a witty, flavourful heroine. Looking further down the ranks, corps de ballet member Carina Roberts continued to make her mark with a fleet, enchanting Cupid.
Minkus’ score may not be a masterpiece, but it’s cheerful earworm material, and West Australian Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Canadian guest conductor Judith Yan gave a rollicking account
DI FALL 2017