Dallas — TITAS brought back France’s Malandain Ballet Biarritz, this time with the show they originally intended to present the last time. In 2015, the company had planned on dancing artistic director Thierry Malandain’s Cendrillon (Cinderella), but international shipping logistics got in the way, and they scrambled to piece together an evening of dance. Creative and brilliant as it turned out, TITAS director Charles Santos was determined for Dallas audiences to see Cinderella, so he brought them back for this season’s lineup.
Abstract in many areas, but still very traditional in others, the ballet was beautifully danced from start to finish. Impeccable lines, stunning turns, and effortless partnering were the highlights, and the minimal visuals allowed for the choreography and dancers to remain the focus. Although Malandain is a contemporary choreographer, the vocabulary had enough of a classical touch to match the traditional music and story.
The narrative followed Sergueï Prokofiev’s score much like it does in other versions. Cinderella lives with her stepmother and stepsisters, who horribly mistreat her. She has fond memories of her father and mother, and throughout the ballet she has helpers (including a fairy, reminiscent of her mother), unseen by the others in the house.
When the palace announces a ball, the stepsisters prepare while Cinderella must endure ridicule and loneliness. Seeing her sadness, the fairy and helpers prepare her for the soiree. Upon her arrival, the prince is immediately enchanted by her presence, and they dance until time is up. He’s heartbroken at her sudden departure, but also determined to find her, traveling the world to do so with only a shoe to go on. When he arrives at her house, the stepsisters try their best to convince him that one of them is the shoe’s owner, but he finally finds Cinderella. Happily ever after, and all that jazz.
The most striking departure from the usual ballet was that the storytelling received almost no help from the minimal sets and costumes (designed by Jorge Gallardo). White drapes, similar to the cyclorama that spread across the upstage area, covered the wings. Along the sides and back, approximately 239 black stilettos were strung from top to bottom (the patron sitting beside me counted). A few props were sprinkled throughout, but nothing really signified where each scene took place, other than the characters’ actions.
Costuming gave a few more hints, although those were quite toned down as well. Cinderella donned a simple short dress (changing color only for the ball), the stepmother and stepsisters wore black, and Cinderella’s helpers were only in nude biketards. A fascinating and creative use of that minimalism added to the illusion, in which all the ensemble members changed into gray pants and jackets and wheeled around black mannequins with shimmery black skirts for the ball scene.
One had to pay closer attention, then, to the dancers’ acting and Malandain’s staging to follow the story, more so than in other story ballets. Although the choreography overall didn’t go for the most extreme or virtuosic, the dancers technical abilities dazzled as much as their performance clarity and timing. The stepmother and stepsisters (danced by males, as is custom in many versions) were uproarious, and the prince partnered Cinderella with elegance and grace.
A runtime of 94 minutes with no intermission was a tad long without a break, and the ending trickled down towards a very vague finale. The overall seamless production and the dancers’ excellent performances, however, were well deserving of the exuberant applause.