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Houston Ballet's Cinderella 3/12

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Two performances of Cinderella...

Stanton Welch's view of Cinderella is not standard; he makes her a tomboy who puts up her dukes whenever her stepsisters pick on her, and who more than holds her own. He also has her fall in love not with the Prince, who is a vain, uppity, epicene peacock, but with the Prince's valet/man Friday, 'Dandini.' This is interesting, and offers the opportunity for Cinderella to display some acting ability; Welch also gives Cinderella several taxing dance seqences (a turning manege in Act One and a very difficult full circle of jumps in Act Two which the brilliant Melissa Hough ended with a double saut de basque!) , so the demands are considerable. The stepsisters are men on pointe, so her 'fight scenes' with them are difficult as well..

Unfortunately, although the company is doing everything asked of it and more, what is asked here is simply not up to Prokofiev's score or to what would make a great production of Cinderella. I realize the difficulty of producing such a ballet, having never seen a version which succeeded (which includes Baryshnikov's production, both with him and other dancers), but Welch's choreography here is not only inadequate in all the pas de deux/big love music, it is inadequate and irritating. Choreographed tics, mannerisms, and schticks do NOT help the problem of how to express adequately such large, grand, sometimes somewhat overwrought music, and the paucity of inspiration leaves the huge Act Two and Three duets dreadfully boring. Fonteyn's Cinderella was well before my time, but I did see Farrell's star turn in Chicago once when very young; Farrell was marvelous, the choreography was not, and there it wasn't. The Houston production also suffers from the lack of funny/clearly difficult choreography for the stepsisters; they show no differences in personality or characterization, and I have always heard that one of the greatest things in the Royal production (possibly better than Fonteyn) was Ashton and Helpmann as the sisters. apparently they, in the British grand-drag-dame tradition, brought the house down every time.

The lack of 'fairies' or soloist variations/divertissements is also grievous here; there are only two bits where other women beside Cinderella dance to speak of, and they are brief and unmemorable, displaying no classical technique or choreography. the other roles are all comedic cameos.

Houston Ballet's dancing is first-rate: Melissa Hough continues to scintillate, sparkle, and dazzle in everything she does, and she makes an utterly convincing tomboy as well. Danielle Rowe, a recent Australian import, is taller so this role is not an ideal fit to her physique, but she is more than competent. Rowe is a dancer who seems to have an extremely wide range, technically and theatrically.

Christopher Coomer, one of this company's most underestimated and sterling men, displayed his quiet sinewy elegance to great effect as Dandini; he and Hough are an excellent pairing.

Joseph Walsh was quite funny as the Prince, and appeared to enjoy himself as well.

Mireille Hassenboehler, a ballerina who has been away from the company for some time, appeared as the ghost of Cinderella's beautiful mother; she was warm, touching, and extremely affecting.

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