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ABT's Cinderella


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#1 Michael

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Posted 10 May 2001 - 08:06 AM

I saw the May 9th Matinee with Amanda McKerrow as Cinderella and Ethan Stiefel as the Prince, and with Gillian Murphy as the Fairy Godmother.

McKerrow gave a good, committed, expressive performance. She's not at all blank and I don't know what ever led me, in the past, to consider her bland. She uses her facial expressions and eyes well in her dramatizations. She has a lovely, soft, pas de bourree, elegantly and musically phrases her steps, and in a supported adagio (particularly supported arababesque piquee) she has a nice way of abandoning herself to her partner.

Stiefel's partnering was, however, weak. I saw no connection between him and McKerrow.

Gillian Murphy stole the show for me as Fairy Godmother. She has the strength, presence and command of a principal dancer
-- beautiful epaulement and porte de bras. She projected an eloquent, beneficent presence in this Lilac Fairy-like role, was very stable on point, and performed with striking clarity. It was a characterization with an animating idea. She was also very engaged both on stage and with the audience -- there was nothing cold in how she presented herself.

All the same, the high point of the performance, both choreographically and as dance -- the most transporting moments -- may well have been the waltzes by the corps in Act II and Act III.

Maria Bystrova was cast in a small solo part as the Crone (in which she is too swathed by purple robes to be recognizable, but it was good to see her get solo billing) and was also a beautiful waltz girl.

The fairy variations were all performed very well by Elizabeth Gaither, Jennifer Alexander, Xiomara Reyes and Ilona McHugh.

Reyes, the new soloist, is very impressive. She's very small and dances very big. A stiking attack blended with perfect technical control in pirouettes in passee. She compares favorably with Tamara Rojo as Rojo danced here in the gala in February.

This Cinderella is the Ben Stevenson choreography, a production apparently aquired from the Houston Ballet. I have very large reservations about this ballet.

No ballet with a Prokofiev score needs to justify its existence. But a central judgment in making the dance, which dictates and mars the entire production, is
the inexplicable decision to present the the two wicked stepsisters in travesti (Marcello Gomes and Sean Stewart), not as Trocs (which might have been interesting) but as Utter, Low Comedy, Three-Stooges-like Buffoons. Horsing around.

So that the action presented on stage is a mixture of low buffoonery in the manner of John Cranko's Taming of the Shrew, mixed with these epiphanies of Grand Romantic Ballet -- Two Grand PDDs for Cinerella and the Prince, and various dreamy solo variations for Cinderella. It just doesn't mix. It's the proverbial pistol shots at the concert.

Can't Cinderella be presented straight? Why not? It's a fairy tale of the Sleeping Beauty genre, although more on the border of kitsch than Beauty, above all because of our over familiarity with it. But this could argue strongly for dramatizing it in an utterly serious and deadpan manner -- in order to avoid the kitsch. (Whereas this production consciously kitsches it up).

In fact, Stevenson tips his hat in the serious direction at the beginning, as it is an act of generosity on Cinderella's part towards the Crone (she invites the old lady to warm herself at the fire -- the opposite of James with Madge in La Sylphide) which triggers her rescue by the Fairy Godmother. Cinderella is merciful towards the Crone and when the Fairy Godmother then appears she appears disguised as the Crone. And Cinderella then keeps being generous, even forgiving her buffoon sisters at the end.

So why mix in the Cranko? Even the forgiveness at the end would work better if it were played straight.

What is it in Prokofiev that seems to seduce choreographers into low comedy? Even Balanchine, in Prodigal Son, mixed in a good deal of this in the troll-like gambols of the prodigal's friends. But in Prodigal it works because it serves the theme of the ballet and harmonizes well with the mid twentieth century German expressionistic aeshetic of the ballet. However, there is nothing inherent in the score for Cinderella which dictates low comedy.

The scenery and costumes by David Walker were beautiful. The lighting, on the other hand, was uniformly too dim.

#2 atm711

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Posted 10 May 2001 - 03:36 PM

I was also at this performance, and I can't add much to what you said. You are right on the mark. McKerrow was indeed a lovely Cinderella, and Gillian Murphy was excellent (and I am looking forward to her Swan Lake). Steifel did not look too comfortable in the role of the prince. (The fact that he looked like Macauley Culkin did not add to his performance). There was too much buffoonery in the step-sisters, and I was doubly offended because I remember Ashton in the role.

#3 cargill

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Posted 11 May 2001 - 10:47 AM

Michael, the idea of men dancing women's roles is not new to Stevenson. Ashton's sisters are danced by men, very much in the Christmas pantomime tradition, and I would suspect that it where Stevenson got the idea. Though Ashton's sisters are in the same genre as Stevensons in the same way Charlie Chaplin is in the same genre as the Three Stooges. I was lucky enough to see Ashton and Helpmann in those roles a couple of times, and the whole audience seemed to be gasing for breath, it was laughing so hard. But the characters fit the music and made Cinderella seem so much more delicate. It is probably impossible to recreate the sisters like those geniuses, but I am sure that even if Stevenson's sisters were danced by women, the ballet wouldn't improve much!


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