Cinderella Dance Liberty

Photo credit  Alexander Iziliaev

By Lewis J. Whittington for The Dance Journal

Academy of Music, October 13

The transition phase of Pennsylvania Ballet under Angel Corella’s artistic leadership continued as last season came to a close with the announcement that many more dancers would be leaving.  In the intervening months, the roster has been filled quickly and strongly enough for the company to open their 2016-17 season with a substantive and enchanting production of Ben Stevenson’s Cinderella.  Stevenson has remade his original 1970 version, with a more modernist sensibility, with the approach less about Cinderella being saved from her miserable life by a Prince and more about her dreams of personal liberation.

Composer Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet score was always more than symphonic narrative of a fairy tale. It was composed between 1940 -1945, while Prokofiev was also scoring nationalist films and was at the mercy of the official Soviet composer union’s seal of approval.  He was already under suspicion as an artistic subversive, and his music could be banned if marked as being contaminated with ‘western’ sensibility or creative decadence.  Despite this, Prokofiev’s music from this era is teeming with subliminal messages, aimed at the Russian citizens, about freedom and dignity pride, separate political regimes.

Cinderella’s is not waiting to be saved by a handsome Prince per se, to escape from her backbreaking chores and constant humiliations, she dreams of a better life to survive her wretched existence.  Cinderella mourns loss of her mother and yearns to be close to her father, but she now lives to serve stepmother and stepsisters who constantly abuse and humiliate her. Stevenson’s strengths are in character dancing and ballet classicism. His more distilled choreography and strong theatrical arc is fully realized on PAB in this staging by Janie Parker.

On the eve of the Prince’s ball, they are get ready are trying on gowns and taking dance lessons.  When the crone appears to rest everyone treats her badly, except for Cinderella who lets her rest by the fire.  Because of Cinderella’s kindness the crone reveals herself as the Fairy Godmother.  Magically the scullery disappears and the mice in the kitchen are transformed into a horse and carriage, she is off to the enchanted ball but only until the clock strikes midnight.

Act II at the ball with the Jester, the foil to everyone’s fun with his hi-jinx, dashing around and pairing up couples and dancing his jaunty and witty solos.  The stepsisters are the Jester’s fops as they try to catch the Prince’s eye with their hilariously awful dancing.  Cinderella makes her stunning entrance, in a drop-dead champagne and crystal sequin tutu.

From the moment Cinderella appears Oksana Maslova’s impeccable technical artistry is service to her beautiful characterization of the part.  Sterling Baca, who danced with American Ballet Theatre, entering the company this season as principal dancer.  Baca strong ABT partnering skills and character technique obviously so suited to this role.  Baca and Maslova’s chemistry is instantly palpable and electric. Maslova’s astound with impeccable balletic line whether in full arabesques on pointe or in motion.  Baca pitched out of a turn sequences in his solos, but hardly detracts from his solid performance.

Stevenson classical ballet variations, laced with fluid lifts patterns and dramatic Poisson dives, wisely don’t come off like inserted textbook phrases.  The choreographer’s ballroom dances are a swirl of waltz, mazurka and gavotte steps, and at this performance amply displayed the precision and robust energy of the corps de ballet.

As the Stepsisters, Charles Askegaard and Ian Hussey have a campy mean girls field day flouncing around en travesti.  Sara Michelle Murawski does what she can to invigorate Stevenson’s brittle choreography for the Fairy Godmother, and has great moments in the forest scenes commandeering the quartet of Fireflies and the ballerinas representing each season- Principals Mayara Pineiro (autumn) and Lillian Di Piazza (summer) and corps de ballet member Yuka Iseda (spring) and soloist Kayesi Torriente (winter).

Alexander Peters, back from an almost season long ankle injury made a triumphant return as the Jester. Fleet, witty and more charming with every move, this part was a perfect fit for Peters to make his triumphant return after recovering from an ankle injury that sideline him for most of last season. His breezy tours en l’air thrilling ever.  Kids in the audience were audibly delighted by his antics, especially when he tangled with the Stepsisters and sends them crashing to the ground.

Conductor, Beatrice Jona Affron ignited the score, and it was an equal player in this ballet every moment, the orchestra’s pacing, detailing and orchestral thrust engulfing the Academy of Music and propelling the dancers.  Magical stage pictures are achieved in the storybook set designs by Thomas Boyd and Steven Rubin and the costumes by costumes by Patty Greer McGarity and Virginia Vogel keep giving, even Cinderella’s scullery garb.  As for the evil stepsisters’ ball gown drag…Don’t speak!

Ben Stevenson’s Cinderella performances Oct 13-23 at the Academy of Music, Philadelphia |

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