Pointe shoes stand in for glass slippers in this adaptation of the classic fairy tale.
Most of us can recite the story of Cinderella in our sleep, either from hearing it (or reading it) as a bedtime story. Girl gets treated poorly by cruel, ugly stepsisters. Fairy godmother gives girl gown and carriage ride to fancy ball. Girl dances with prince, leaves ball in carriage (sans one shoe) before it changes back into a pumpkin. Prince searches for (and eventually finds) girl to have as his wife. But the audience’s familiarity with the story gives The Washington Ballet lots of opportunities to ramp up the story’s romanticism and glamour — three acts worth, to be exact. (In my opinion, the production could have been tightened up a bit and divided into two acts instead of three; I’m sure the many audience members who fall into the under-10 set, as well as their parents, would have also appreciated things moving on at a tad quicker pace.) But no matter, “Cinderella” is great fun.
This ballet has its roots in 1940, when Sergei Prokofiev was commissioned to write it for the Kirov Ballet on the heels of his successful “Romeo and Juliet.” World War II interrupted his progress, but it was finally performed in 1945 at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre. This production had its world premiere in May of 2003. Budget cuts with The Washington Ballet this season have necessitated using canned music instead of a live orchestra, and while the company took its share of heat around the holidays for running taped music for its “The Nutcracker” which some deemed tinny or screechy, fans of this show will be happy to know that the score is neither distracting nor off-putting.
As Cinderella, the slight and graceful Maki Onuki is stunning to watch; Artistic Director Septime Webre always knows how to choreograph her to perfection. Whether she is dancing with her broom in a tattered work dress, imagining it’s her Prince Charming, or actually waltzing with him, she is a joy to watch. Her several pas de deux with the Prince (Jared Nelson) are fluid and effortless. Adults may notice that there is a certain je ne sais quoi missing from their chemistry — at times they appear to be going through the motions rather than falling in love — but that will go over the heads of young fans of the classic fairy tale, who will instead by wowed by the gowns and other costumes.
Speaking of which, Judanna Lynn‘s costume designs are exquisite. Lynn eschews the traditional, expected blue ball gown for our transformed heroine. All the other ballgoers are adorned in the hue, but Cinderella and the Prince dance the night away in pale pink. In the garden scene, the Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter fairies are dressed in the colors of the season, in wispy sheer dresses that match the lighting and the colors of the forest. James Kronzer’s set design and Tony Tucci’s lighting design are true to the story, without being trite or over the top.
The same cannot be said about the infamously mean, selfish and spiteful stepsisters. Webre made the decision to cast men in the roles (Luis Torres and Zachary Hackstock in comic drag), which gives him the chance to portray them as unattractively as possible (moles, crude makeup and garish dresses), and to make them act like ungraceful boobs to great comic effect. The audience seemed to love their scenes, their comeuppance in the end proving to be a satisfying payoff. I thought the act was fun, albeit played out a bit too much. The duo seemed to make a major appearance in just about every scene, but by the laughter in the audience my opinion seemed to be in the minority.
Those who can’t get enough of the littlest dancers will be pleased to see the cuteness factor well represented in tiny mischievous bumblebees. They shake their yellow-and-black tushes and get flipped up and carried offstage at the end of their number.
When the clock strikes midnight signalling the end of Cinderella’s fantasy evening, lots of different clocks drop from the ceiling above the stage, the incessant ticking and donging adding to the urgency of her departure. No hastily dropped glass slipper remains, though; it’s a pale pink pointe shoe, bien sûr. In Act III, The Prince searches around the world for the delicate, petite foot that belongs to his future princess. As we all know, his travels eventually lead him back to Cinderella. The final scene takes place in a forest under the full moon, with dry ice trailing around onstage. Our romantic pair becomes entwined in a long piece of flowing fabric… to live, we presume, happily ever after.
“Cinderella” continues at The Kennedy Center‘s Eisenhower Theatre Friday, March 22 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, March 23 at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, March 24 at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.. Tickets are $25 to $125, and can be purchased here. The show runs about two hours long, with two 15-minute intermissions.
Kelly Magyarics is a writer and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She usually covers wine and spirits, but is a former dancer who just loves the ballet. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, and on Twitter @kmagyarics.