Beauty becomes her: Ballerina’s lead role satisfies life-long dream

Queensland Ballet this week prepares for their staging of the timeless fairytale. For Neneka Yoshida, who will perform as Princess Aurora for her Principal Artist major debut, there would be no ballet without The Sleeping Beauty.

May 31, 2021, updated May 31, 2021
Queensland Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty (Image: Queensland Ballet)

Queensland Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty (Image: Queensland Ballet)

Queensland Ballet first performed Greg Horsman’s fairytale interpretation of The Sleeping Beauty in 2015, which went on to set box office records for the company.

Horsman’s classical production is an homage to the magic within the fairytale, with elaborate Renaissance costuming, intricate set designs, and choreography that has been passed down through generations.

After seven years with the company, Neneka Yoshida makes her major debut as a Principal Artist, playing Princess Aurora on Friday.

Without The Sleeping Beauty, Yoshida may not have become a ballerina at all.

“When I was little, I grew up watching The Sleeping Beauty. I asked Santa Claus for the Royal Ballet’s production of The Sleeping Beauty on DVD and watched it over and over again,” Yoshida told InQueensland.

“It was one of the main inspirations for me to become a ballerina because The Sleeping Beauty’s world is so magical and so special. I hope that when we perform it this time round, there are kids who get the same inspiration that I had when I was younger.

“It is an honour to be able to perform my dream role as my first Principal role,” she said.

The production, renowned for being technical and challenging, is based on choreography that has been passed down through history from dancer to dancer.

“Even though I haven’t performed yet, I think this will be the hardest ballet to perform. It is known as a challenging performance,” said Yoshida.

“This ballet is very physically demanding, and there are many controlling steps required for balancing. There is no exception that you can perform it in your own way,” she said.

“You have to ensure you have correct technique to perform the innocent beauty of the classical ballet.

“You have to look very elegant and effortless while doing very simple but very hard steps.”

Neneka Yoshida rehearsing at the Queensland Ballet studios. (Image: Queensland Ballet)

For this year’s production of The Sleeping Beauty, Queensland Ballet will welcome Mary Li back to the stage, performing as The Queen for three special performances after retiring in 1992.

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Mary Li performed as Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty with the Houston Ballet, with husband, and Queensland Ballet Artistic Director, Li Cunxin as her Prince.

Now, Mary Li is passing on this wisdom on to the next generation of performers.

“Li Cunxin, Mary Li, and Greg Horsman are helping me to respect the style, any ballerina who plays this role has to respect the style that has been taught from previous generations,” said Yoshida.

“I must respect what Mary Li teaches me. She played Princess Aurora when she was a dancer and was taught herself by Margot Fonteyn, who is very famous in ballet history, so the style and the steps are passed down throughout history,” she said.

The Sleeping Beauty will see Tchaikovsky’s sweeping score performed live by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra at QPAC’s Lyric Theatre.

Yoshida said it is Tchaikovsky’s classic score that will transport audiences to the world of The Sleeping Beauty. 

“I feel like anyone who listens to this music can’t stop smiling because it is so recognisable as part of this fairytale world. It tells a story just with the music, even without the dancing. I feel like the music is the main foundation of the story.

“On top of that we have beautiful choreography, moving sets and intricate costuming which all contribute to the story as well. So, the whole production will create magic on stage.”

The Queensland Ballet’s staging of The Sleeping Beauty begins 4 June and runs until 19 June. For more information, visit the Queensland Ballet’s website. 

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