Random Cinderella thoughts
It feels like Moira McDonald was right in the Seattle Times when she thought that it was perhaps too soon for the company to revive the work -- the ballet has many charming moments, and a nice collection of roles for soloists -- but it’s not two years since the last time we saw it, and it feels a bit too familiar. I went back and looked at what I’d thought about the work the last time we saw it, and I don’t really have many new insights (which may just mean that I’m slow). There are some lovely ensemble sections (the group dances in the ballroom scene and the Four Seasons divertissements), but the big dances for Cinderella and the Prince aren’t really designed to be big -- they’re not in the classical pas de deux form, but are through-danced duets set in private spaces. Stowell really seems to prefer this kind of partner work -- he’s made several traditional pas de deux, but he often will pass over the chance to do one in a program-length narrative work in favor of a more contemporary duet. He does that here, and in his Romeo and Juliet -- he’s said that he was looking to focus on the relationship between the two main characters, but that doesn’t necessarily preclude the more traditional form. Whatever the reason, Cinderella and the Prince dance with each other, but not necessarily for their community in this work -- it makes me think of the feminist epilogues to classic fairy tales from the 1970s, bemoaning the way that the plucky heroine has to conform to the traditional mores of “happily ever after.”
Stowell has created several “I remember” moments in the ballet, and although Carla Korbes gave a lovely performance overall on opening night, Leslie Rausch looked like she had a clearer backstory attached to them in the Saturday 9/22 matinee. Her mime elements were nicely calibrated throughout the ballet, and Brittany Reid, as stepmother to her Cinderella, had great rhythmic clarity that helped point up all those specifics. (her sequence in the first act, as she’s leaving the kitchen to go to the ball, was dead-on. She sweeps her husband out of the way, confronts Cinderella and then dismisses her in a perfect three-part phrase). William Lin Yee didn’t quite match her musicality, but was very clear in his intentions and focus, making what is sometimes a secondary character much more legible. Sometimes, when the father acts as the deus ex machina in the third act, he seems to come from nowhere, but when the dancer makes himself more visible early in the ballet you don’t have that sense of “huh?” at the end.
On opening night Karel Cruz made a very jokey prince in the ballroom act -- at moments it seemed that the only thing distinguishing him from Jonathan Porretta’s Jester was their height. He egged the Jester on as he tries to avoid dancing with the stepsisters -- it really isn’t until we see Cinderella enter the ballroom that he has much gravitas. I know this isn’t Swan Lake or Giselle, but I’m not sure I like a Prince quite this prankish. But the choreography for the corps has a nice edge to it -- between the blood red costumes and the just-a-little foreboding score (which keeps making references to Romeo and Juliet) the ensemble is a powerful unit, almost like "La Valse." At moments I wished that the stakes were higher in this scene, so that the corps could be a real player in a bigger game -- their potential wasn’t really used to its full extent here.
The Godmother has a similar vibe, especially as danced by Carrie Imler. She is so stable and so smooth, and her entourage with the Four Seasons divert is so substantial it makes me wonder if perhaps the Stepmother has supernatural powers, instead of just being a harridan. It takes all this magic to defeat the stepmother and her dithering daughters? This time around the Godmother reminded me a bit of the Marschallin in "Der Rosenkavalier" -- she arranges other people's lives. (though I think part of that impression comes from her costume, which looks a lot like the peignoir that Renee Fleming wears in the Met production of the opera)
The Seasons were a pleasure to watch, especially Summer and Winter, which have more sustainment that Spring and Autumn. (although Sarah Ricard Orza does a thoroughly lovely job as Autumn) Leta Biasucci was a very springy Spring at the matinee, and Laura Gilbreath was very queenly as Winter.
Tangentially, the Seasons bring in the Godmother’s gifts to Cinderella, but they don’t go in the traditional order. Spring brings in the dress first (and Biasucci, who is quite tiny, has to lift it high up so it clears the floor), and then it’s Summer with a necklace and Winter with a tiara -- Autumn gets to deliver the shoes. This probably doesn’t mean anything at all, but I have to wonder, why the change?
In the Theater of Marvels Eric Hippolyto and Matthew Renko both got turns as the Evil Sprite (dancing opposite whoever plays the Godmother as the “Good Fairy.”) The solo ends with a series of gestures -- big and fancy finger pointing like casting a spell -- both of them used so much energy that it was more Evil than Sprite. The Harlequin and Columbine duet was a welcome contrast. Tisserand and Ricard Orza were very appealing on opening night, but it was especially sweet to see Kiyon Gaines dance with Amanda Clark at the matinee. It’s seemed that he’s been dancing less and less as he’s been choreographing more and more (though I think part of that has been due to injury), but he was in very good form here, bouncing through the Italianate material.
One of the reasons that Peter Boal brought “Cinderella” back so soon was to honor Kent Stowell during the company’s 40th anniversary season, and so it was charming to see Marisa Albee, one of the original stepsisters, return to perform the part in this run. I can’t know if she’s working from original knowledge, or just profiting from all that experience, but either way she has a great sense of comic timing. As she stalks the Prince during the ballroom scene, she works her fan like a pro, knowing exactly when to pause for maximum effect, taking the beat to let the audience really respond to the situation. And when she gets irritated (which happens all the time) she shakes her head so that the feather at the top of her impossibly tall cap quivers with her indignation.
Opening night had a few special extras -- a one-time-only performance of Jerome Robbins’ “Circus Polka” with former PNB ballerina Patricia Barker as the ringmistress, and a slide show of photos from the company archive. Barker looked great as she shepherded her tiny tribe around the stage (instead of the usual initials at the end of the work, they arranged themselves into a 4 and a 0 for the 40th anniversary), and the slide show was full of images that made you remember how much younger everyone was at the start of this enterprise. The orchestra played the finale from Stravinsky’s "Firebird," which was the score for the Grand Defile when Stowell and Russell retired in 2005. I’ve always thought it was a problematic section of the ballet, but it’s great processional music, which is how it operated here. Strangely enough, Peter Boal didn’t appear in front of the curtain on opening night, but the audience was full of former dancers, which gave the rest of us plenty to look at when the curtain was down.
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