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Fort Worth Dallas Ballet's Cinderella

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Sorry, this is lengthy.

I have recently moved to Texas from New England and wanted to see some ballet in this area. I know that Ben Stevenson is scheduled to direct Fort Worth Dallas Ballet in June or July of 2003 so I was excited to see his production of Cinderella on this company. I attended a performance at the Music Hall at Fair Park on Friday, April 11th. Unfortunately, I was disappointed on several levels.

I felt the production was pretty short on choreography. There is really not much dancing. The four fairies of the Seasons had nice variations and the ballroom scene was good, but the pas de deux, and all else, were quite lacking in "dance."

The scenery, especially the drops, were quite attractive, but the costumes were another matter. The Seasons' costumes looked like maternity wear and were singularly unflattering. The Fairy Godmother was running a close second. The stepsisters (Andre-Claude Kaltenreider and Igor Dumbrovsky performed well and showed some real thought behind their work) were not quite right. Some of their very funny business was lost in a flurry of "busy-ness" caused by their costumes and either poor staging or poor choreography. First Act got overly fussy with the stepsisters and the wigmaster and the dancing master and the violinist all on stage with Cinderella and her father and stepmother. It was a jumble. The story line was not clear. There was no receiving of an invitation to the ball so one wondered why all these trades people were coming to Cinderella's house.

Lighting was quite dark and murky. I don't know if this was intentional, but it was both depressing and made for difficult viewing.

Second Act had some nice choreography for the corps, although I missed the usual character dancing in the beginning to that wonderful music. There seemed, however, to be a shortage of men. And even more unfortunately, those men were frequently difficult to discern from the ladies of the corps de ballet solely because their costumes were virtually the same color and from any distance everyone blended together with this monochromatic pallette. Mark Troxler was a fine jester.

The Seasons were well danced especially by Michele Gifford, formerly of NYCB, as Winter (finally, a real professional on stage albeit in the worst costume I've ever seen), and Katie Keith, as Summer ( what was that rolling on the floor choreography?), was absolutely radiant on stage having the right look of youth, but

dancing with maturity and (hello) stage craft. (She would be my pick for a Cinderella) Enrica Tseng was very good, her talents wasted on the minor diversion of Autumn. It was nice to see Erin Brennan being given the opportunity to show her talents in the Spring variation. Margo McCann was very professional in a somewhat minimal role as Fairy godmother. Any of these dancers would have made a fine Cinderella.

Now we get to our Prince and Cinderella. While I'm sure that Ronnie Underwood and Christy Corbitt Miller are probably very sweet people and fairly competent dancers (they are certainly the "Ken and Barbie" of the company) they are not principal dancer material. At least not now and I'm not sure that they ever will be. They made an attractive couple and got through their material without any hitches. In fact, Miss Miller tossed off some rather impressive feats (a series of releves traveling across the stage, for one) but that is what she did - toss them off. Everything she danced had virtually the same value. She executed steps that she had been told to do. She did not know how to make something exciting (or even particularly interesting) or how to draw the audience to notice specific things. (I thought both pas de deux a snooze, but could not decide if it was the choreography or the performance given) She did the steps and it seemed she did them correctly, but sadly, she and Mr. Underwood failed to dance with any soul. Alas, this cannot be taught, either you have it or you don't. If these are the dancers that Mr. Stevenson has chosen to put forth, then he's got his work cut out for him. I was very disappointed, especially when there were other dancers to choose from. Also, someone desparately needs to give Miss Miller and Mr. Underwood (as well as a lot of the corps) a make up lesson.

The company seems to be uneven in its experience level. There are dancers who are real professionals - Michael Clarke, Margo McCann, Enrica Tseng, Michele Gifford, Katie Keith, and Andre-Claude Kaltenreider and Igor Dumbrovsky in character roles. When I go to the ballet I want to see mature, sophisticated performances. And there are a number of dancers who look like students. Hello. Ballet is not just for little girls, which seems to be the senitment in Dallas.

As I say, Mr. Stevenson has his work cut out for him. I do hope his full time presence will make a more marked difference in the future.

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Kyriakoula, we WANT lengthy reports!

Thanks for letting us know what's going on in Dallas. It's going to be really interesting to see what the next year brings. I know Old Fashioned and Sissone are in Houston, but have you seen this production as well? How does it look on Houston ballet? (Come to think of it, isn't this what ABT uses as well?)

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I don't think I've seen this production before and, no, I haven't seen Houston do it. But I remember a production done by Michael Vernon for Eglevsky Ballet (Marina Eglevsky was Cinderella) some years ago and it was really good. Lots of plot progression via dance and I just remember it as being clearer. Also, somewhere along the line I had seen a video of Ben Stevenson and Frederic Franklin doing the ugly stepsisters with the National Ballet of Washington. I don't know who's choreography it was, but it was funny. Maybe because their performances were so good. Anyway, I wish the best to Fort Worth Dallas Ballet because a metropolitan area of this size should have a first rate company. (Actually, I liked Nureyev's Cinderella for POB. That was the first time I had ever seen Isabelle Guerin. This version had soloist women, I believe, rather than men, doing the stepsisters.)

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Two comments -- first on FWDB -- I haven't seen them perform in several years, hopefully with new leadership next year they will become what they were under Paul Mejia-- a company of beautiful talented dancers who knew how to perform. By that I mean not just going through the steps, but actually making you feel and believe in the magic. Several of the names mentioned especially Enrica, Michael, and Margo I remember well (Michael and Margo were there during the Mejia years). They are mature, talented, expressive dancers. I hope Ben Stevenson will make use of their gifts.

Comment number two, I will be attending PABallet performance of Stevenson's Cinderella next month. I haven't seen it yet so I will give you my take on the staging and performance in May.

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