If the shoe fits…

Okay, so here’s the final installment in my “Crazy Dance-Filled Week” extravaganza. Then I promise to get back to more recent history!

After dancing in two very different performances and taking a master class I got to head back to the Boston Opera House to take in their premiere of Sir Frederick Ashton’s “Cinderella.”

I’m usually a “First Saturday” attendee, but since I was already booked to be ON a different stage, I had to switch my tickets. Not a big deal, but this was a popular show and I didn’t get around to switching tickets until late, so the seats weren’t as good as usual. Nevertheless…

I was excited to see this one. And my excitement stemmed from a very silly reason. See, I was addicted to the show Breaking Pointe when it was on and during much of the taping in the second season Ballet West was rehearsing and performing this exact version of Cinderella. Since the television series obviously could only show little snippets of the ballet (and very few at that… actual dancing would take away from the interpersonal dRaMa!!! they tried to stuff down the viewer’s throat in that season), I wanted to know what this thing was all about.

This was BB’s premiere of Ashton’s Cinderella. They’ve performed other versions before, though I’ve not seen them. The only other Cinderella ballet I’ve seen was some backwater Russian company. And then, of course, there was our own version that we put on for the studio’s annual show last year. Not to disparage either of those versions, but I was pretty sure BB’s production of Ashton’s version would blow both of those out of the water.

Which — of course — it did.

Now, I’ve become quite used to the fact that the sets and lighting are generally spectacular, and this show was no different, from the dark and dreary kitchen that Cinderella whiles away most of her hours to the palace ballroom. The costuming was similarly evocative. As for the plot…

Well, I mean, you know the basic story of Cinderella, or at the very least have probably sat through Walt Disney’s take on it at least once. That basic plot was there, though there were some aspects that I didn’t quite understand.

First up was the fact that Cinderella’s father is VERY much alive in this story. I spent a lot of time wondering why the heck this guy who purportedly loves his daughter so very much forces her to scrub grates while the rotten stepsisters gallivant around. If there had been a stepmother I may have been able to buy it a bit more, but there was not a step-mommy to be found. According to the program notes he is afraid of his stepdaughters. Okay, sure, the stepdaughters were rather a burly and unruly pair (more on that in a minute), but really? To be so cowed by a pair of obnoxious wannabe socialites that you allow your own kid to be treated like a stray dog… I don’t get it.

Anyway, the fairy godmother enters, initially in the form of a mysterious beggar-woman that Cinderella acts kindly towards even though Heckle and Jeckle asked her to bugger off. FG rewards her kindness with gifts presented by fairies representing the four seasons. Except… I didn’t get the whole “gifts” thing. In other versions the gifts have been tangible and included the infamous, fancy shoes. Maybe it’s just that my seats were so far away from the stage that I missed the transfer of gifts. This part was beautifully danced but I still didn’t get it.

Never mind, on to Act II, AKA “The Ball.” There was the requisite prancing around by the generic “ball-goers” including some comic relief from two characters named Napoleon and Wellington. There seemed to be a group of people that served as human scenery in this part. Maybe they were playing the role of wallflowers. Not sure. I did notice that the wallflower ladies appeared to be wearing pointe shoes, but I swear I never saw them execute a single balletic step, let alone one that appeared en pointe. Or maybe I just zoned out during that part. Anyway, Cinderella then appears and dazzles all, particularly Price Princey (he has no name… but I suppose if a guy is going to fall in love with some random chick without knowing a damned thing about her he doesn’t really deserve a name… at least they didn’t turn his name into a symbol… *snort*). More lovely dancing until, alas!, midnight strikes. I actually quite liked this part of the ballet, especially when it came time to *poof!* Cinderella back into her run-of-the-mill self. It was so well done that it really seemed magical.

But then — okay, I had been warned about this part by the director of our company who had seen the show the week before, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so painfully obvious — Princey holds up a blindingly sparkly pointe shoe and starts the whole “We must find that girl!” brouhaha. My problem is not his attempt to find her, it’s the fact that the entire time she was dancing as fancy Cinderella she was wearing her trusty, pink, satin Freeds (or whatever it is that Ashley Ellis wears). They pasted no sparkles on those shoes! MAJOR plot hole right there!

So, curtain down, curtain up. Act III, or “Find that Girl!!!” Much comedy ensues resulting in, you guessed it, happily ever after. Hurrah.

Plot holes aside, the dancing.

Okay, one thing I love about story ballets is that, ideally, you get to see a bit of acting from the dancers. And in ballets that allow for a bit of fun (some story ballets take their silly plots far too seriously), you get to see some great comedy, even a bit of slapstick. The stepsisters in this were particularly hilarious. In our show they were played by Robert Kretz and Sabi Varga. Yes, that’s right, stepsisters played by men. Sit back, close your eyes, and imagine that for a minute. Truly hilarious. They were easily my favorite part of the whole thing; from the scenes of them in various states of undress to trying valiantly to put the slippers on at the end it was pure genius.

But the dancing technique showcased in this show really stood out to me. I suppose it helps to put Ashton’s version of Cinderella in context: this was the first full-length ballet he put together for Sadler’s Wells Ballet back in 1948. Technical expectations have grown significantly since then, but when performing Ashton’s Cinderella you do it they way he choreographed it, not the way we might choreograph something similar in this day and age. As a result, the steps had an almost quaint feel to them. I don’t mean that to be disparaging at all. As a matter of fact, I quite liked it. The extensions were generally kept low and the combinations relatively simple. I think this allowed the story to come through more genuinely than it might have otherwise. I think back to when I saw BB put on Sleeping Beauty last year with Lia Cirio as Aurora. She was beautiful (not sure how she could be anything but), but with her amazing talent and technique it was hard to buy into the idea that her character was only 16-years-old. In this the steps did not overpower the characterization, which I greatly appreciated.

Can’t say that Cinderella is my favorite ballet, but I loved feeling the history that came through on this one!

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