Performance review: Cinderella, Peninsula Hot Springs

While the idea of luxuriating in a hot springs pool while taking in some culture is lovely, the idea needs some refining.

Yes, you read that right. This was a performance of the ballet Cinderella, staged at the Peninsula Hot Springs – regional Victoria’s renowned pinnacle of perfect pampering. Apparently a new initiative designed to draw culture lovers to the venue, the performance from the Bundoora-based Victorian State Ballet was part of the company’s 2023 touring season. Standing out in a sea of arts centres, theatres and town halls from Bendigo to Burnie, the Hot Springs was certainly an unusual spot to sit and watch Cinders find her Prince Charming.

So unusual, that it’s not really feasible to offer a regular review of the dance company’s performance. Cinderella is the choreographed equivalent of a session of easy listening music, and it’s no surprise that the Victoria State Ballet favours other family friendly perennials like Snow White, Swan Lake, Beauty and the Beast in its repertoire for the season. But its inclusion at the Peninsula Hot Springs was all about the experience, rather than the art.

From fine dining on steam trains to music at the zoo, today tourist destinations across the country are looking at how they can expand their offering. You may think there’s little you could do to improve on simply lying back in a hot spring pool and letting the cares of the day evaporate in the steam, but someone, somewhere has looked at the venue’s usual bill of fare and thought, ‘We can top that’.

And, it has to be said, they weren’t wrong, although there were certainly teething troubles that need to be addressed if there are to be similar regular events. To begin with there were the limitations of the site and nature of the environment. The small, canopied stage is located in an amphitheatre-like space, on one side of a small body of water, opposite several hot pools on the hillside. In front of the pools, which act as the theatre’s balcony if you like, there’s room for chairs – of the deck variety, or large squishy, seat-shaped beanbags.

‘Cinderella’ Bathe and Ballet at Peninsula Hot Springs. Image: Supplied.

But everyone, pool dwellers or seated spectators alike, were far away from the action, separated from the stage by the pool and shrubs. Cinderella was certainly a smart choice, as it’s a ballet that doesn’t require too much work on the part of the audienceanything too complicated or unfamiliar would have struggled to make an impression across that divide.

Then there was the specific nature of the event. Cinderella may not throw up any great challenges for the audience, but the performance still comprised two acts, with a break, which is a significant period of time to sit in hot water watching something. I’d recommend avoiding the prune effect by visiting the pools earlier and then watching the show al fresco but dry.

‘Cinderella’ Bathe and Ballet at Peninsula Hot Springs. Image: Supplied.

More of a concern, however, was the actual staging. One of the reasons it wouldn’t be fair to review the dancing is that it was hard to really see it due to the production choices. With a bare stage, the scenery was provided via a front projector, which meant that not only could you not clearly see those images projected on the back wall of the stage – because the dancers obscured them – but, more egregiously, you couldn’t clearly see what the dancers were doing because they were eclipsed by those same projected images.

Look, as I said, teething troubles. The idea is certainly sound enough. And while the amphitheatre as it stands would need some inventive and bold creatives to really make the space work, it still made for a lovely autumn evening’s entertainment. The venue offered delicious food and drink, the weather gods smiled and the contoured beanbags were undeniably comfy. A pleasanter way to spend an evening would be hard to find.

Cinderella Ballet at the Springs took place at Peninsula Hot Springs on 27 April 2023.
For details of the Victorian State Ballet’s 2023 tour and to book.

Madeleine Swain is ArtsHub’s managing editor. Originally from England where she trained as an actor, she has over 25 years’ experience as a writer, editor and film reviewer in print, television, radio and online. She is also currently Vice Chair of JOY Media.