Dallas — Everyone knows a version of the rags-to-riches tale of Cinderella. The story is flooded with magic fairies, evil stepsisters, and happily-ever-afters. But Texas Ballet Theater’s Artistic Director Ben Stevenson wanted more from this classic narrative. In his recreation of Cinderella, the audience experiences each magical moment through extravagant sets, engaging characterizations, and romantic choreography. Divided into three acts, Stevenson’s story ballet captured heartbreak, comedy, and love within a two-hour window. Combined with the original score by Seregi Prokofiev, the performance cast a dreamy spell throughout the Winspear Opera House.
Opening on a busy set complete with a fireplace, wardrobe, and homey details, a fragile Cinderella, played by Alexandra Farber at the performance reviewed, struggled to find her voice amongst her taunting stepsisters (Drake Humphreys and Alexander Kotelenets), cold stepmother (Anna Donovan), and feeble father (Timothy O’Keefe). Mostly comprised of gestures and miming, the first section focused on creating the narrative. Later in the act, Cinderella met her fairy godmother, played by Carolyn Judson, who summoned her mystical assistants by twirling about the stage. Judson’s entrance provided a much needed burst of technically challenging choreography—an important shift from the gestural based movements of the introduction. Judson commanded the space with her sharp arm slices, perfectly erect posture, and confident turns. The Spring Fairy (Amanda Fairweather) joined her in a series of smooth, wave-like arm patterns. She was followed by Allisyn Caro as the Summer Fairy, who continued the fluid tone through sultry bends and lengthy extensions. This peaceful atmosphere was disrupted by Fall Fairy Samantha Pille. Cutting the space with quick steps and powerful balances, Pille earned the prize for the most lively and expressive fairy of the bunch. Switching to winter, Katelyn Rhodes returned to the serene atmosphere of the first two seasons with an added collection of somber turns. After each season completed their solo showcase, Judson returned for a wild partnering section with her dragonfly companions. As she leapt into the air, the four men caught, held, and carried her as she quite literally flew from partner to partner.
Act Two started with a bang thanks to the electric performance of Andre Silva as the Jester. We returned to the story at the ball where Silva bobbled his head and flicked his wrists as he welcomed guests to the grand affair. As couples continued to trickle in, Silva stunned viewers with a fast-paced solo where he jumped from a toe-touch, to a death drop, to a dizzying turn sequence without missing a beat—by far the most entertaining and charismatic solo of the night. Following this explosive performance, the stepsisters arrived and attempted to impress the Prince, Jiyan Dai, with their clumsy and comedic solos. Kotelenets tripped and stumbled while Humphreys held grotesque positions and awkward balances. Their characterizations successfully showcased their anti-balletic movements while also ironically highlighting their strength and precision. After this hilarious display, the Prince spotted a newly transformed Cinderella and the two meet for a shy duet. Although they performed the gentle choreography with technical accuracy, the duet failed to reach its romantic potential due to a lack of chemistry. Individually, Dai and Farber embodied the purity and innocence of their characters, but seemed to miss the spark when dancing together. Even their steps offstage were out of sync. Another highlight of this act occurred when the party guests performed a visually stunning waltz section. Clothed in deep burgundy, the couples filled the stage with constantly changing spatial patterns, perfectly angled dips, and precise lifts. Mimicking the accents and changes in the music, each couple or grouping captured a specific instrument or melody—creating a visual symphony of movement.
After the clock struck midnight, Act Three returned to a humble Cinderella in her tattered skirts as she reimagined the previous evening’s dreamy events. Farber appeared more confident in her movements—sharper turns, quicker pricks of her feet, and more luxurious waltz steps. Upon Dai’s entrance and his discovery of her matching glass slipper, Cinderella forgave her family and the two stepped into glittering, white wedding costumes to profess their love. Their final pas de duex captured a more mature couple as their slow steps began to sync together. Deeper plies and bigger lifts gave this duet more intimacy than their earlier performance. Ending with a grand wedding scene, each character filtered back onstage to congratulate the new couple as they raised their arms in unison with the climactic score.
Hugely entertaining, Stevenson’s reimagined Cinderella held tightly to the tradition of the story ballet, while also including bits and pieces of originality through the characters—specifically the stepsisters and the jester. Although at first disappointed by the connection between the Prince and Cinderella, they continued to work at their coordination to reveal a believably happy couple in the end.