Theatre: Cinderella, with the Royal NZ Ballet

Lucy Green, centre, of The Secret Lives of Dancers fame, plays Cinderella in the RNZB's production. Photo / Ross Brown
Lucy Green, centre, of The Secret Lives of Dancers fame, plays Cinderella in the RNZB's production. Photo / Ross Brown

It is a magical story, the classic rags to riches fairytale where dreams come true and goodness triumphs over evil. The Royal New Zealand Ballet's premiere season of Cinderella back in 2007, with sparkling choreography from renowned British choreographer Christopher Hampson, was a total triumph.

Now it is back and shining even brighter with a new star in the title role and some subtle but important tweaks to both steps and design.

"Audiences have very high expectations," says Tracy Grant Lord, whose beautiful sets and costumes made an enormous impact first time round: a magnificent, rose-themed art nouveau tableau following a muted and subtle "ugly" opening scene, crowned with a romantically stylish ballroom with "many, many chandeliers" illuminating its elegant guests and bewitched young lovers.

"We have to wow audiences," she says, "to really push the boat out to meet their expectations. It costs a lot to see these shows..."

The most obvious changes have been made to Cinderella's ballgown and her cloak. The original design for the centrepiece tutu specified long sleeves and those, and some other fine details that got lost in the huge initial process of building the show from scratch, have been reinstated - along with another liberal application of Swarovski crystals - "a very cost-effective way of embellishment".

Cinderella's underskirt now has twice the sparkle, the cloak double the drama and the wonderful insect characters are also twinkling brighter.

"This time it is how I designed it," says Grant Lord, "and I think it is a better show."

Christopher Hampson has also returned to guide the company through the work and admits that the possibility of the production having dated was a nerve-wracking consideration at first.

"Our original concept," he says, of the close design collaboration with Grant Lord, "was taken from the fashion of the day, from magazines, wallpaper designs, the catwalk."

But because his choreographic language "comes from a place of classicism" and Grant Lord does "a mix-up of the contemporary and classic and is ever mindful of the universal and timeless", his fears were unfounded.

But with many of the original cast having moved on, including the original Cinderella, Yu Takayama, Hampson has relished the opportunity to rework the piece with the dancers, especially the production's new star Lucy Green.

"Lucy, Bronte [Kelly] and Tonia [Looker], who share the lead in alternate casts, are very different dancers to Yu," he says. "It is important to be able to develop a role on new artists."

Just two years into her professional career with the RNZB, the leading role is a huge step up for Green.

"She's a baby, right at the start of her journey," says Hampson of the young dancer who was also a star in the television series The Secret Lives of Dancers, which caught her at audition stage, amazingly articulate even then.

Hampson says he threw his copy of the series in the bin, unwatched, but that Green's spontaneity and freshness stood out for him in class, she had the right aesthetic and silhouette for the role and "she made beautiful lines".

"My choreography needs a dancer with liquid legs," he says, "and Lucy's leg, when she places it, really speaks. That is what I look for."

He also describes her as very dedicated, able to absorb information and deliver quickly on it. "And she has the X factor," he says. "You just want to watch her."

Green describes her first principal role in a full-length ballet as "overwhelming at first and unbelievable".

"I wondered 'why me' at first. Your look does come into it. Certain aspects of a role make you more or less suitable. You have to live the role. But I know I have worked very hard to improve my technique, performance skills and my characterisation. You have to have some natural talent - but you have to push yourself as well.

"I am a big believer in hard work - in all of life. Hard work is the key."

It hasn't always come easily for Green. After graduating from the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School where students combine a full high school curriculum with their arts training, she was rejected by the Australian Ballet School for not having the right body.

"My turn out was a big challenge and I have very muscular legs," she says. "Ideally dancers have long, lean limbs - and a great turn out. But I do think that sometimes dancers who don't have a 100 per cent perfect, classical body can be the most exciting to watch, because they have to push that much harder."

And working hard also means working smartly, she adds. "It is no use just going over and over something until you drop. Sometimes you have to take a moment and step back and consider the real issue. You can fix lots of things through thinking."

Where and when: Bruce Mason Centre, Takapuna, September 1-2; Aotea Centre, September 5-9

- NZ Herald

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