THE JOURNEY OF CLARA

Posted on 16 March 2017 By rosem

For Principal Artist Leanne Stojmenov, the role of the Russian ballerina in Graeme Murphy's Nutcracker - The Story of Clara is a special one. She tells Chloe Gordon why. 

CG: Graeme Murphy's Nutcracker is now in its 25th year, and you danced the lead role of Clara in 2009. Can you tell me a little bit about your experience of the production?

LS: It's a special ballet for me, I guess because Clara was a pivotal role in one of the first dramatic ballets that I had a chance to do. It was really nice working alongside Janet Vernon and Graeme Murphy on that part of my artistry, and being able to carry such a dramatic role onstage.

CG: What do you think are the greatest strengths of Murphy's production?

LS: I think its biggest strength is that it's an Australian production. If you delve into the story, it's the history of how ballet got started in Australia. Russian ballet dancers who emigrated to Australia, like Clara, started the Borovansky Ballet. I think that’s a really beautiful story and it's a great ballet for people who don't know the history of how ballet started in Australia, and how that led to The Australian Ballet itself.
I also think the costuming and sets are absolutely some of Kristian Fredrikson’s best. They’re immaculate and glamorous and elegant, and you feel so beautiful in every single one of his costumes.

Photography Branco Gaica

CG: Do you have a favourite costume?

LS: I do! You rarely see it in photos of the production because it's worn for such a short amount of time. It’s the costume Clara wears to the Tsar's ball: it's this beautiful black gown, it's absolutely exquisite, and I wish she did just a little more dancing in it so I could stay in it for a bit longer. The way it fits, and the way it’s decorated with lace and dripping with jewels and beads - it's really flattering. And the way it moves: it goes with your body, it's really flowy and beautiful. There are a lot of people who have a similar style of costume in that scene. But Clara’s is quite exquisite.

CG: And a favourite set design?

LS: The backdrop in the grand pas de deux, with the burnt orange colour. The way it matches the costumes ... it is incredibly simple, but it's a beautiful setting for the pas de deux.

Photography Branco Gaica

CG: The character of Clara is split across the three roles. How does dancing with the older and younger Claras affect your experience of the character?

LS: The connection that you have with both Claras is really important; the other dancers have to know where you're coming from. That thread is one of the most important in the ballet. Last time I performed with Ai-Gul Gaisina [as the elder Clara], and she's very, very thorough and very communicative about what we're all trying to achieve within the ballet. It's really special to be on stage with artists like that. She was from Russia herself, and so it feels really big.

[In the 2009 production] we also had Marilyn Jones dancing that role. I didn't dance with her, but just being in these dancers’ presence – they were the history of The Australian Ballet, so it’s really quite mind-blowing. You would never expect to share something like that with them.

CG: Can you tell me a little bit about the partnering in the pas de deux?

LS: The grand pas de deux is not really the straightforward classical partnering. Graeme incorporates a lot of the strength of the boy. They really have to give in, and strike a balance with weight, so they can let you off-balance but then bring you into a classical position. It’s tricky, but it's a lovely pas de deux if you can achieve that connection with your partner.

CG: What are you most looking forward to about dancing again in this production?

LS: It's a special ballet for our company and there's always a buzz around working with Janet and Graeme. I think it is such a unique production and I just feel really honoured to be a part of it.

The three Claras. Photography Branco Gaica