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.