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Cinderella


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 31 May 2003 - 07:23 PM

Did anyone go? I saw the first two performances but won't write about it here until after my review is published (of Friday night) probably on Monday.

There are two reviews and a background piece on Saturday's Links.

If anyone saw the performance and would like to comment, please do.

#2 Mike Gunther

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Posted 01 June 2003 - 02:24 PM

Hi Alexandra, is it only you and I who go to these things? :)

I saw the Saturday performance (Brianne Bland / Jared Nelson) and was delighted - it may be a "stretch" into this repertoire, but the company seems to be "stepping up" to the challenge. And those beautiful costumes simply blew me away - worth every penny of the reported $200,000 - a brilliant setting that let the dancers shine.

Septime's choreography can be facile, but he also delivers the goods, as in the Jester's variation (admirably nailed by Jonathan Jordan), the Seasons dances, and especially Cinderella's climactic pas de deux with the Prince. Bland and Nelson danced so beautifully together, with such accomplishment and feeling, that for me it was truly, well, magical.

It was also a thrill, with this company, just to see so many dancers onstage at the same time! I loved the way they brought in dancers from the school and DanceDC and blended them so smoothly into the performance. A big, ambitious, dazzling show!

#3 Alexandra

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Posted 03 June 2003 - 07:00 AM

I think we are the only ones, Mike. We had two Washingtonians who posted frequently but both have moved to other cities.

This was the first serious attempt at making a classical ballet I've seen from Webre, and I thought it light years better than "Romeo and Juliet" or "Carmen." Some of the variations -- Spring, Autumn, Cinderella's first variation in the ballroom scene -- I thought were quite good. Not just an arrangement of classroom steps, but real variations, where the steps denoted character and were interesting to watch. The rest -- especially the corps choreography -- was rather perfunctory, but it was "real ballet" (defined, as a friend of mine does, by "you could tell whether they could dance or not.") As Sarah Kaufman noted in her opening night review, the corps was by no means perfect (timing was off, the dancing wasn't precise, but sometimes sloppy -- unpointed feet, skittery arms) but this is a big production and it will take awhile for the piece to jell. (I have to say I was very happy that Kaufman made the point that if the dancers spend most of the year doing contemporary dance, they're going to have problems dancing classical ballet. Pick one, please :D )

BUT. The ballet part is only half the story. The rest is sit-com level cheesy comedy, and the comedy was dominant on the opening night. The Prince was so weak -- in presence and in dancing -- and the Jester so strong that it made the second act look like the Jester had rented a prince to stand around at his (the Jester's) party. I agree with Mike about Jonathan Jordan (the Jester at all performances). He had several solos (opening night, it seemed as though he had 17 solos :D ), mostly jumps, and he not only danced very well but stayed in character; it was a very endearing performance, I thought.

The ballet seems to have taken the Ashton version as a template, but lacks its subtle grandeur -- and doesn't use fairytale ballet rules. It doesn't discard them. It seems as though Webre doesn't know them. The Fairy Godmother's first entrance, when she's disguised as an old woman, should NOT be made with dry ice; reserve the mists for the second entrance, when it's magic! And Fairy Godmothers have wands. Webre said at a post-performance talk that he didn't give her one because he thought it was a cliche. No, it's an attribute. It focuses her mime, so that you know there's a transformation; without a wand, she's just waving her arms. And a Jester is not the Prince's pal AND an all-purpose servant -- he's neither. Having him kiss the female guests' hands is out of place. The Jester's role is to comment on the action, provide diversion. As good as Jordan was, unless there's a Cinderella and Prince who can top him, he was given too much to do.

The stepsisters were done as bad parodies of the Trockaderos. They could have been named Mean and Meaner. One tripped a lot -- a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot. And the other was ugly. So ugly that every male over the age of two gagged when they saw her face. That also happened a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot. The poor father had to bumble through all of this -- splat! gag! -- and since he had nothing to do except, between splats and gags, comfort Cinderella (twice, I think), why have him?

The stepsisters were at their ubiquitous worst in the ballroom scene. Because the Washington Ballet is a very small company -- too small, really, to do a work on the scale of "Cinderella" -- the kingdom is a very poor one. The guests were 6 corps couples in absolutely identical costumes. So it looked like, perhaps, a birthday party for the kingdom's two sets of sextuplets. In BOUND the stepsisters in their multicolored finery, and they take over. They barely look at the Prince, and go for the Jester -- which could have been funny, but wasn't made to be funny. It was just annoying. They provided the comic relief for the ball scene, which doesn't particularly need any (and the "Love of Three Oranges" sequence, would do) and the joke is that they lift the Jester. A lot a lot a lot a lot .....

As it stands, this is not a "Cinderella" for balletomanes. I'd go to see it for a new cast, depending on the cast, but there's not enough meat there to go to see the ballet for its own sake. BUT the bones are there, and if the stepsisters were trimmed (taken out of the first scene with the Fairy Godmother/Old Woman and at least one antic sequence cut from the ballroom and TONED DOWN to at least vaguely resemble human beings) and the choreography, especially the corps choreography, made more complex, it could be.

One thing I thought Webre did very well, both as a choreographer and as a ballet master building a company, was to provide real roles for children, mostly the boys. There's a violinist and a tailor's assistant, and three liveried servants. The much hyped INNER CITY OUTREACH CHILDREN DANCE BUMBLEBEES AREN'T THEY ADORABLE???? were underused. Even seven year olds should be able to do more than run to the front of the stage, shake hands, wave at the audience, shake their butts and run to the back. And do it again. But the violinist and the tailor's assistant are real roles. There is also an Angel couple in the first act divertissement that's danced by children -- a boy and a girl -- that's charming. Otherwise, the girls from the school are cast as dancers rather than children -- they're butterflies -- and although they dance very well, they're obviously students, and they look as though they're there to fill out the corps, which gives the ballet a school production look.

I thought Erin Mahoney, as the Fairy Godmother opening night, gave the best performance I saw, in any role. She has real authority -- ballerina authority -- had a sure sense of her role, and her dancing was both full and soft -- she never looked like a contemporary dancer, didn't emphasize her extensions. Michele Jimenez, who was the first night "Cinderella," a very strong, clear dancer, very sweet and very musical, but, to me, she looks the same in every role, with an all-purpose, ear-splitting grin and she always looks like a contemporary dancer to me. I prefered Brianne Bland, the second cast Cinders, who built the role, changing and growing from act to act, and saving her strength for the final pas de deux so that it really crowned the ballet. Of the Princes (dressed in raspberry velveteen, please), Runqiao Du gave an extraordinarily underpowered performance and seemed stiff and uncomfortable in the second act, especially. Jared Nelson isn't a Prince -- he's small and lacks line -- but he was actively engaged in the ballet.

A final quibble: the sets were borrowed, so the company was stuck with what looked like a huge, colorful cardboard coach-and-driver-and-horses for Cindrella's trip to the ball. But there was no transformation scene, no pumpkin, no mice. "Cinderella" isn't a comedy, but a fairytale about destiny and coming of age and magic, and while things like wands and pumpkins might seem childish, they're integral to that magic.


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