Three directors and 18 years later, Olivia Bell bows out with style

Olivia Bell gave a gracious and elegant farewell performance last night in the ballerina role in Paquita at the Sydney Opera House.

She seemed totally secure and at ease as she cruised through the difficult solos and pas de deux (with Adam Bull). The pinnacle of the Paquita variations is the ballerina’s shoulder sit and in this Bell made a princess-like appearance up there in front of a couple of chandeliers – the only décor for this party piece.

I felt that I never really saw enough performances of Bell although she has been a dancer with the Australian Ballet since 1995 when Maina Gielgud was nearing the end of her tenure as artistic director, and then at the time of Ross Stretton’s artistic directorship and since 2001, during David McAllister’s time at the helm.

But her years at the company were not continuous with time out during the early years and then maternity leave as she had her twin boys, now 4 and her daughter, aged 2.

It must have been clear early on that she had the perfect physique for a ballerina. She began her training aged 9 at Tessa Maunder’s New Lambton school in Newcastle and at the age of 15 she won a scholarship to the Paris Opera Ballet School.

I remember her elevation to principal, aged 29, in 2007, after she danced the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in Nutcracker at the Sydney Opera House.

At the time, McAllister told me her quality was “extraordinary”.

“She’s always had that star quality, even at the Australian Ballet School”, he said.

“She’s got that aristocratic elegance and she is very European in the way she dances”.

That quality was rare then and it remains rare.

Last night, Paquita was followed by La Sylphide (the final performance of that double bill) in which Miwako Kubota gave a charming interpretation of the sylph, partnered by Chengwu Guo, 24, whose promotion to principal artist was announced on stage by McAllister at the end of the show.

2 Comments

  1. Anna Campbell
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Quite a low-key farewell as these things go…with Paquita being only the first third of the evening, no streamers, just David McAllister presenting flowers…perhaps Olivia’s personal preference?

    I was thinking at second interval that Cheng has really come on in leaps and bounds (sorry) over the last couple of years, and that it surely wouldn’t be long before he took the final step…and as we were applauding I noticed the cameras practically in the pit. Got a bit excited, guessed right, and cheered quite a lot.

    I agree, Miwako was utterly charming, and was one of only two Sylphs to actually get me a little misty-eyed, over both Melbourne and Sydney seasons. In fact if I remember correctly, as Cheng danced with Juliet Burnett and Lana Jones in Melbourne and Ako Kondo, Reiko Hombo, and Miwako in Sydney, he was James to five very different Sylphs.

  2. valerie
    Posted November 27, 2013 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    Anna, I felt the same about Olivia’s farewell. I remember the farewell performances of many other principals of the company and there was much more celebration, flowers and more people on the stage. I think there’s something to be said for the farewells at the Royal Opera House where there are flower throws from the audience for principal artists. Still, Olivia will not be forgotten by audiences and perhaps she might return for a guest appearance or two.

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Paquita, Australian Ballet, l to r, Robyn Hendricks, Olivia Bell, Miwako Kubota and Ako Kondo, photo © Jeff Busby

Paquita, Australian Ballet, l to r, Robyn Hendricks, Olivia Bell, Miwako Kubota and Ako Kondo, photo © Jeff Busby

Adam Bull and Olivia Bell in Grand Pas Classique, Australian Ballet, 2008, photo  © Jim McFarlane

Adam Bull and Olivia Bell in Grand Pas Classique, Australian Ballet, 2008, photo © Jim McFarlane

Olivia Bell, Suite en blanc, Australian Ballet, photo © Justin Smith

Olivia Bell, Suite en blanc, Australian Ballet, photo © Justin Smith

Chengwu Guo, photo © James Braund

Chengwu Guo, photo © James Braund