Richardson — Making its debut at the Eisemann Center for the Arts Friday night, Texas Ballet Theater provided a just about perfect Cinderella. Yes, the music was taped and the lighting too dim for the first act, but Artistic Director Ben Stevenson’s version stands out as the best I’ve ever seen. Like many other choreographers, he chose Sergei Prokofiev’s score, and that is a challenge in itself.
This is one ballet where there is no need to read the program notes, for every detail is broadcast vividly, down to Cinderella’s dreamy dance with a broom to the priest’s offering the wedding blessing. As for the antics of the two ugly Stepsisters, “vivid” doesn’t go far enough. They are so hilarious that the audience can’t get enough of them. (Anna Donovan as the Stepmother has less to do but is a hoot nevertheless.)
That hilarity is a problem, for the Stepsisters (Carl Coomer and 6’1 Alexander Kotelenets) come close to stealing the show. Fortunately, our Cinderella (Leticia Oliveira) provides just enough counterweight. After the dancing master despairs of trying to teach the sisters rudimentary steps—they are pitifully clumsy—Cinderella, left alone, later does a wicked imitation.
For no matter how much her stepsisters torment her, this Cinderella is no meek ninny. She goes though bouts of longing for her dead mother, of daydreaming of a better future and then chastising herself for even wishing. It makes Cinderella all the more appealing.
And you can’t help but like the Stepsisters, for as much as they torment Cinderella they are really just big versions of five-year-old siblings. They are forever squabbling, forever jealous and much more intent on one-upping each other than bothering Cinderella. Dressed to the nines in Technicolor flounces and pastel slippers, their hairdos a mop of curls, they tower over the drab, tattered-skirted Cinderella and are as ugly as she is pretty. (To add to the joke, in real life Mr. Coomer and Mr. Kotelenets are movie star handsome.)
Left alone, Cinderella spends much of her time dancing with an imaginary partner in broom disguise. Since she has tenderly offered bread to a begging ugly crone, her reward later is for the crone—transformed into a fairy godmother—to whisk Cinderella into a magical forest and offer her the fateful glass slippers.
The forest scene is a smaller version of the Prologue of The Sleeping Beauty: delicate fairies skim and shimmer like the rustle of a breeze, each representing the four seasons, with the fairy godmother hovering to the side. This is where Mr. Stevenson’s classical British aesthetic shines most brightly: the dancing is so willowy, so fluid and detailed down to the flick of a wrist that it is a sheer delight to watch. It makes such a delicious contrast to the sisters’ pratfalls and stumbles. (Mr. Stevenson’s gift for comedy is another part of his legacy from the Royal Ballet and musical theater.)
With a score that ranges from stirring to achingly romantic to rambling pedestrian, creating a coherent ballet is a challenge. There is no problem with Cinderella’s dreamy scenes, the antics of the stepsisters, the fairies or the stunning ballroom waltz where guests cover the stage in diagonal patterns, but the pas de deux—that’s another story.
Prokofiev’s music falls flat on the pas de deux and only with Ms. Oliveira’s tremendous gifts of expression and liquid dancing do the two main pas de deux come close to offering the much-needed emotional impact. As the Prince, Andre Silva is too much the schoolboy than a prince, although he is convincingly attentive—and fires off brilliant turns. But it is Ms. Oliveira’s ballet, and she delivers.
Cinderella will be repeated March 25-27 at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, with the Fort Worth Symphony accomopanying.
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.