Since joining The Australian Ballet 15 years ago, Principal Artist Olivia Bell has performed many powerful lead roles: Clara’s dream ballerina the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker, the warrior-like Flavia in Spartacus and the duplicitous Manon. After a short hiatus, Olivia returns to The Australian Ballet to perform the leading lady in red in Stephen Baynes’ At the edge of night. As she prepares for the role, Olivia shares some of her favourite performances to date.
The Nutcracker, Sugar Plum Fairy
Tchaikovsky’s score makes this magical ballet a favourite of mine. The Sugar Plum Fairy solo in act two is one of ballet’s most recognised pieces of music and, for me, epitomises the music of mystical dancing fairies. I have one particularly special memory of performing this role at the Sydney Opera House with my family in the audience as I was promoted to principal artist and presented flowers on stage by my husband, Nicholas. A moment I hold close to my heart.
This is a pas de deux choreographed by Jerome Robbins originally for Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov, two of my all-time favourite dancers. I was plucked from the corps de ballet to perform this ballet. It contains all the elements I love about dancing. The dance gradually builds up in intensity and technical complexity until it finally explodes in a flourish of fluid and luxurious movements. It also combines subtle Russian undertones that reflect my heritage.
A dramatic story about love and betrayal. I always love the process of becoming a character. From the early rehearsals when we’re understanding the character behind the story, to the performance when I no longer think and just fall into the role and tell the story through every inch of my body.
Every Balanchine ballet is a challenge. They’re always technically difficult with very precise choreographic demands and built-on stylised movements. His ballets require coaching from specialised Balanchine repetiteurs weeks prior to the performances.
This was my first full-length principal role. But I was in the trustworthy hands of my long-time friend and colleague, Robert Curran, who has been dancing with me since I was 10 years old! The ballet is both emotionally and physically exhausting, but the music keeps you going. The score was composed by Khachaturian, who created an incredible atmosphere. Some parts are so beautiful I have had tears in my eyes on stage.
Olivia Bell in Suite en blanc. Photography Justin Smith