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Royal Ballet US Tour - Cinderella


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#1 art076

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Posted 06 July 2004 - 09:54 AM

“Cinderella” kicked off the Royal Ballet’s US Tour in Costa Mesa last night, and it was simply stunning. I must have seen 10 or so ballet performances on my recent trip to New York, but none of them came close to the overall quality of last night’s performance. The Royal is really able to create a whole – that is, a fully formed and developed – and satisfying evening from start to finish. Everyone on stage is so invested in their roles; they know they are putting on a story and a show, not just a whole bunch of dancing strung together with a loose plot. Everyone seemed to believe in the story, and they play it through fully and naturally; each soloist was a bright and living character that was a joy to watch. And that, I feel, is something that has been missing from many story ballets that I have seen recently. Dancers have inconsistently maintained character, or they seemed to be thinking through the steps more than just dancing. The Royal seemed to be in another class. I’ve always been impressed watching them on video how deeply invested in their roles and in character everyone on stage seemed to be – and seeing them live did not disappoint.

Of course, the dancing was wonderful as well. Alina Cojocaru was delightfully girlish as Cinderella – she was the demure, pretty girl next door who doesn’t seem to notice how beautiful she is because her noisy sisters distract everyone’s attention. Her dancing in Act 1 was a bit noisy – her hard pointe shoes clonked around on the stage, and it seemed she was doing some excessive stomping; the problem lessened in later acts (perhaps someone told her how loud it was), but her shoes were still noticeably louder than others. Her dancing, though, was wonderfully liquid and flowing; she’s a tiny dancer but she projects very well and has a very warm stage presence. Her variations and pas de deux in the Act II ballroom scene were sublime.

The Fairies and their variations at the end of Act I were the highlight of the evening. Isabel McMeekan, as the Fairy Godmother, carried herself with authority and poise, and dancing with a kind of melting lyricism that makes you wish she was your own personal Fairy Godmother. Christina Elida Salerno was marvelously musical as the Fairy Spring, Lauren Cuthbertson delightfully creamy and British as the Fairy Summer, Laura Morera a flamboyant (if slightly too wild) Fairy Autumn, and Marianela Nunez a beautiful Fairy Winter. Ashton’s brilliant waltz for the corps de ballet closes out Act I – another one of my favorite parts of the evening.

The only dancing disappointment of the evening was Johan Kobborg as the Prince; he seemed to be having an off night. His jumps were a bit clunky and was unsteady on several turns. His partnering of Cojocaru was sure and steady, however, and he managed to carry himself with a noble air despite the flubbed dancing. The Prince doesn’t get to do much in this production anyway, besides stand around and look nice – the travel-around-the-world sequence that Prokofiev wrote into the beginning of Act 3 does not appear in Ashton’s production, so the Prince gets next to nothing to do. This is very much Cinderella’s ballet.

Ashton’s “Cinderella” is a bit deficient narratively, as it glosses over plot points to instead focus on individual moments. There is, for example, plenty of hamming from the Ugly Stepsisters, and tons of dancing in the Ballroom. But the Fairy Godmother’s transformation from Beggar Woman to pretty Fairy gets half a second in dim lighting, going by so fast one wonders what in the world just happened. Then, at the end of Act II, the Prince finds a sparkly slipper. The slipper is supposed to, of course, belong to Cinderella. But she has been wearing plain white pointe shoes for the entire act: who’s shoe is it then? The ballet seems to simply assume we know how the action got from point A to point B without much exposition. The lack of narrative cohesion is mostly forgiven, though, because of Ashton’s wonderful choreographic gems: the Seasonal Fairy variations, the Act I waltz for the ensemble, Cinderella’s Act II ballroom entrance and dance, her variation and subsequent pas de deux.

It was still a great evening, though. I was very, very excited as I walked out of the theater Monday night, with the kind of excitement that very rarely comes, when you know you’ve just seen something really good. I keep going back to the ballet hoping I’ll get that giddy feeling again, and last night, I got it.

--art

#2 Giannina

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Posted 06 July 2004 - 10:34 AM

You're not going to believe this but I left at the first Intermission! Not in a fit of pique but in a fit of not feeling well. My husband almost fainted when I came home! But, in reference to the first act at least:

I completely agree with art076 that McKeekan was a wonderful Fairy Godmother. The Season were also lovely, some more than others. Even lovelier was their choreography; it's beautiful in itself, and what the dancers add gives the magic to the performance. Having just seen the video with Ashton and Helpmann as the stepsisters I found these stepsisters lacking, and almost void of personality.

I was sitting in the stratosphere which is usually empty. It was jammed, and it was good to see the OCPAC full of ballet goers. Unfortunately I was seated by 3 or them who displayed some of the horrible manners we've mentioned. Sigh.

I'm going for another Cinderella dosage Thurs.

Giannina

#3 Alexandra

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Posted 06 July 2004 - 10:57 AM

Oh, Giannina, I'm so sorry -- I hope you're better now. Maybe it was the stratosphere, or the rudeness.

Thanks very much to both of you, art076 and Giannina, for writing about this for us. This sounds like a find prologue to the Ashton Bicentennial Season (oh, to be in London....) Giannina, this sounds like the cast that was recently televised in Britain, and I agree with you about the Stepsisters. I think, too, that without Ashton and Helpmann, the roles look, as art076 notes, hammy.

Art, I don't blame you for being giddy. It sounds like a good performance all round. I don't mind the slipper bit; I can accept the toe shoes as a convention. With Dowell as the Prince, I liked the ballroom scene, but I can see where the dances could become tiresome. Thank you very much for writing in such detail. I hope for more!

Giannina, we will all remember that you're going again Thursday :)

#4 Guest_barleys01_*

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Posted 06 July 2004 - 01:58 PM

Just want to say thank you so much for both of you and please keep us updated on how they are doing- I think I've suffering from some withdrawal symptoms already!

And Giannina I hope you feel better soon!

#5 Giannina

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Posted 06 July 2004 - 08:59 PM

Thanks, everyone!

Giannina

#6 art076

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Posted 06 July 2004 - 11:56 PM

Gianina: I second (or third) the Get-Wells! You've got to stay for at least the second act on Thursday night. :-)

Tuesday night found the stratosphere section back to its normal weekday emptiness. Perhaps the seat fill on Monday was due to the observed July 4th Holiday, or because it was opening night, or even perhaps because it seems to have been the most anticipated cast (the LA Times had, as early as January, a note about Cojocaru being an upcoming not-to-miss in 2004, and the Times also ran a giant feature about Cojocaru and Kobborg in the most recent Sunday arts section). Relative emptiness is apparently normal for a weeknight; its a huge hall (3000 seats!) though the weekends apparently sell out for the big-name ballet weeks. There was a very annoying child in the upstairs today; the ample seating allowed me to move away at first intermission, though that unfortunately meant I had to sit through the Fairy variations with a five-year-old's running commentary.

Now, on to the show itself: There seemed to be a noticeable drop in energy as the second cast shuffled in, though the company still managed to maintain the sense of unified theatricality that I so liked on Monday night.

Also, there was a bit of a kooky problem with the set as the curtain went up; it must have snagged on the full length mirror, because the mirror came crashing to the floor as the curtain rose. Leanne Benjamin, as Cinderella, and William Tuckett, as the Father, went over and righted it in full character - as though nothing odd happened. And so the show went on.

Leanne Benjamin looked and acted as an older, more mature Cinderella. She didn’t have quite the girlish charm that Cojocaru had the night before, but it was serviceable. What this meant, however, was that Benjamin was less endearing overall, and instead had to rely on her technique and the choreography to string the audience along for the ride. Benjamin did have the technique, and she managed a few high points in the choreography (noticeably: her steely pointe work in the extended Entrance-to-the-Ball dance in Act II). Her Act II pas de deux, however, was a bit overdone: it sometimes looked like she was in dreamy Swan Lake mode, or at other times in Sleeping Beauty mode, but never quite in the proper Ashton Cinderella mode. Viacheslav Samodurov made the best of the Prince’s limited role; technically secure and princely in manner, he made a much stronger impression than Kobborg’s messy Prince on the night previous.

The Ugly Stepsisters, Thiago Soares and Tim Matiakis, were way over the top on Tuesday night – and far too much so. I’m not sure who danced which role (it’s not detailed as clearly in the program), but the Ashton Sister – that is, the one that Ashton himself dances on the video version – simply seemed to run around the stage stomping, and the Helpman Sister just kept swatting him with a fan. There less of an attempt at creating a convincing character than there was at slapstick gags.

The Fairies were once again wonderful. I never seem to tire of that choreography! Vanessa Palmer danced the Fairy Godmother, Iohna Loots the Fairy Spring, Lauren Cuthbertson again the Fairy Summer, Laura Morera again the Fairy Spring, and Deidre Chapman the Fairy Winter. Cuthbertson continues to impress me with her understated and musical dancing.

The production has two exceptionally long intermissions here in Orange County – the first one a whopping 30 minutes, and the second a long 20. There can’t be that many people to run through the bathroom – and the set is elaborate, but does it really take 30 minutes to transition into the ballroom?

I'm debating whether or not to make a complete collection out of the Royal Ballet performances here in Orange County. We'll see how I feel tomorrow night perhaps?

#7 Giannina

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Posted 07 July 2004 - 10:27 AM

art076 states (wish I knew how to use that "quote" thing-y):

"Ashton’s “Cinderella” is a bit deficient narratively, as it glosses over plot points to instead focus on individual moments"

I'll say. Consider this....I mean think about it: in this version of the story the stepmother has died!

Giannina

#8 art076

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Posted 08 July 2004 - 12:10 AM

Saw another "Cinderella" Wednesday night!

Main highlight tonight was Inaki Urlezaga as the Prince; I liked Urlezaga very much. He brough a charisma and charm to the role that the other two Princes this week were lacking. I actually enjoyed watching his role, and for once did not simply fade away into the background. He made Acts II and III more fun to watch, as the Prince was not just this bored-looking block walking around. Urlezaga seemed to take genuine joy in finding his Cinderella, and in dancing as well.

Tamara Rojo was somewhat of an Ice Queen Cinderella during the Act II ballroom scene, but it worked out okay since she danced the Ashton choreography so exceedingly well. There's this moment in her ballroom variation where she stands up on one foot on pointe, does a little back bend in place, straights back up again and continues as nothing happened. It's a kind of breathtaking moment if the effect is executed properly - Benjamin flubbed it last night, Cojocaru got it Monday but sparkled so much elsewhere that the backbend moment simply flew by. Rojo tonight used it to full effect - wonderful. Rojo's pas de deux was crystalline.

The Ugly Stepsisters really hammed it up during the curtain call today, maintaining their silly characters to the end. It was very funny. Fairies were the same as Monday night, and were great again, as usual. I was hoping, though, to see Zenaida Yanowsky as either Fairy Godmother or Fairy Winter (reports from the winter run in London said she had danced these roles)...doesn't look like she'll be dancing either this time, but she may dance a Myrtha in "Giselle" over the weekend. I enjoyed watching Yanowsky as Dewdrop on the "Nutcraker" DVD and as Prayer on the Coppelia DVD, and had hoped to see her dance in person.

Great performance tonight, up some from Tuesday night. I feel like I'm keeping score in a baseball championship series. :D

#9 Giannina

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Posted 09 July 2004 - 05:58 AM

I made it!

And I loved it.

It's hard to curb my enthusiasm and get my thoughts in order. The gist of the matter is: the name of the ballet is ASHTON! The choreography is so sumptuous that nothing short of rank amateurs could spoil the ballet. The evening was not perfect, but perfect enough.

Jamie Tapper and David Makhateli starred; I found them the weak elements. Tapper dancing was excellent, but her portrayal was overly sad and lacked a joyfulness that Cojocaru projected in spite of her dismal circumstances. Makhateli's technique was a bit off tonight, and his partnering was not his strong point.

Act I really is the best of the acts. The highlight is the Fairy Godmother's solo, and then the Seasons. Fairy Godmother's solo reduced me to tears tonight. The music; the choreography; the stomping toework; it was perfect. Vanessa Palmer danced the role, and somehow she moved me more than Isabel McMeekan did on Monday tho I preferred McMeekan's technique. Natasha Oughtred, Isabel McMeekan, Deirdre Chapman and Christina Arestis were the seasons. All were lovely. Arestis (Winter) is a beautiful woman and beautiful dancer; I'd like to keep an eye on her. I got more out of the stepsisters this time around, probably because I followed them beyond the first act. Alastair Marriott repeated in the Ashton role and was still a bit blah. The 2nd act brought out the personality of the Helpmann stepsister; Philip Mosley's protrayal was miles away from Helpmanns's (I've got to quit comparing them to Ashton and Helpmann) and I loved it. He/she was a dame (USA dame, not Brittish!). I was glad to see that these stepsisters, in their own way, kept the endearing qualities Ashton and Helpmann brought to the roles; they loved each other, and there was a bond between them and Cinderella.

Act II brought the best costume of the production: the jester's. If nothing else he served the purpose of bringing primary colors to a pastel act. The Cinderella/Prince pdd was lovely. This was a love pdd in the balletic classic style with the Ashton touch; you just couldn't miss it; not flambouyant, not stilted; elegant. So many lovely passages, for example Cinderella is lightly supported in a double pirouette, then released and circles the Prince in a series of single pirouettes.

Act III was Act III

The theater's stratosphere section was empty so I could cough and sniffle to my heart's content. No rude audience members, in fact no audience up there. Wonderful evening.

I could go on and on but enough already.

Giannina

#10 nysusan

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Posted 10 July 2004 - 09:00 PM

Thank you so much for the reports, I can't wait to hear about their Giselle! If anyone can help me out with an idea of how long their Cinderella is - my cousin and I are going to see Cinderella in NY at the Met, and she's trying to figure out which train she'll be able to catch home to Long Island - any estimates as to how long Cinderella is (including intermissions)?
Thanks,
Susan

#11 Alexandra

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Posted 10 July 2004 - 09:23 PM

nysusan, it's three acts, although the third one is short, and, as people have noted, the intermissions have been long, so I'd take a late train! If you call the box office, they may be able to give you the stop time.

#12 art076

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Posted 10 July 2004 - 11:52 PM

NYsusan - Here in Costa Mesa, Cinderella was clocking in at 2 hrs 55 min; we'd be getting out at roughly 10:55 each night. You would probably have to take the late train back to Long Island, unfortunately. But if you were to leave at second intermission, that gets out just after 10 pm.

I'll have to trade my Thursday performance for Gianina's Monday performance - a nasty traffic snarl on the freeway made me late for Act I, and they held me outside in the lobby for the entire act! So I watched the house scene and fairy variations on a monitor in the lobby - a terrible way to watch it.

But of Acts II and III - I thought Jaime Tapper was wonderfully light and clean as Cinderella. Her variations and pas de deux were perfect, if not a bit mannered. Tapper, however, lacks the sheer charisma that Cojocaru or Rojo brought to the role. Even if Rojo was a bit icy on Wednesday, she still had a certain "it" to draw your attention. Tapper made it by the simple prettiness of her performance. I can't comment on her characterization of Act I (it was impossible to see clearly on the monitor :( - don't be late in New York! The company has mandated a hold on latecomers).

David Makhateli, listed as a First Soloist in the program, was an adequate Prince, though he clearly needs to grow into what it means to make the most of a cavalier/ supporter role. He made it through the performance by going through the motions.

So that was the end of the Royal's "Cinderellas" in Costa Mesa. I very much enjoyed watching the choreography - that Ashton is simply priceless. He was so in tune with Prokofiev's music - the score is somewhat odd for a fairy tale story ballet (especially if you have seen Matthew Bourne's production of "Cinderella"). The music is very jagged, sometimes cacophonous, and definetly not your lyrical Tchaikovsky. But Ashton mined it for some brilliant imagery and patterns, not to mention his trademark "Britishness" of style. The Waltz which closes Act I is brilliant, as the star pattern on the stage fits in gloriously with the menacing edges of Prokofiev's waltz. And then there are those fabulous variations for the Fairies, which everyone here has gushed over at length already.

"Cinderella" also gave us the chance to look at many of the Royal's principal and soloist women, and it's a good outlook for them. Many strong ballerinas and some fantastic stars in the "Cinderella" roles. Cojocaru made the most exciting Cinderella, with a strong characterization and a glittering ballroom scene. Rojo came in second with her formidable technique and flawless execution of the Ashton. And in the Fairy roles, Isabel McMeekan truly impressed with her Fairy Godmother (twice!), and Lauren Cuthbertson seared her rendition of the Fairy Summer variation into my memory. The main weakness in the Royal's production of Cinderella seems to be what to do with the Prince role - how to make it unboring, and more significant. Inaki Urlezaga seemed to surmount that challenge well, while the other three unfortunately did not do much with the role. All in all, however, a very enjoyable week of Cinderellas. I wish I could move to London for the year and watch the Royal do all sorts of Ashton work!

I did a marathon of "Giselles" this weekend also; still composing my thoughts on that, but I will post when ready!

#13 Maxi3D

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Posted 11 July 2004 - 03:47 AM

I wish I could move to London for the year and watch the Royal do all sorts of Ashton work!

Same Here art076, won't that be just wonderful! B) pipe dream. SIGH.

#14 Mel Johnson

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Posted 11 July 2004 - 05:28 AM

I did a marathon of "Giselles" this weekend also

You must have got all the Giselles we'll be missing in NY!

#15 nysusan

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Posted 11 July 2004 - 08:09 AM

art076, thanks for the info on Cinderella. I'll have to convince my cousin to spend the night in the city instead of trying to catch a midnight train home (don't want her to turn into a pumpkin, and missing the last act is not acceptible!)

And thanks so much for the reviews, I can hardly wait till Tuesday to see the Royal! I'm very dissapointed that we won't get Giselle, but eagerly anticipating Scenes de Ballet & all those excerpts. Guess you can't have everything :shrug:


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