NBT’S CINDERELLA: A DAZZLING VEGAS VALENTINE
By: Hal de Becker
This Valentine’s Day included not only the usual heart-shaped boxes of candy but also Nevada Ballet Theatre’s latest presentation, ‘Cinderella’, set to the Prokofiev score.
The production can be summed up in one word: Fabulous!
It was sponsored by Nancy and Kell Houssels with supporting sponsorship from Audra and Bobby Baldwin. Nothing was spared and it may have been one of NBT’s most tastefully elaborate and expensive undertakings.
It was a cheerful, uplifting production with excellent dancing and acting, delightful choreography and visually rich costumes and décor. The company’s P.R. and Marketing departments saw to it that on opening night the Smith Center was packed.
The audience response was the most enthusiastic I’d seen in years. They laughed at the ballet’s humorous moments, sighed audibly in the sentimental parts, gave non-stop ovations at the end, and afterwards there was a smile on every face.
The ballet was choreographed by NBT’s artistic director James Canfield and its new ballet mistress Tara Foy who has frequently performed with the company.
In the past, NBT has rarely reached into its own ranks with a major choreographic assignment and the decision to commission Ms. Foy was clearly an excellent one.
How do two choreographers share the work on one ballet? They can divide it by ensembles and solos, classical and national dances, scenes or Acts and in many other ways. I don’t know what method was used in the present instance but the collaboration resulted in an immensely successful production.
Cinderella is of course a love story but it’s also a rags to riches tale dating back to the early 17th century when marrying a prince was tantamount to winning the lottery.
It was transformed into a comic opera, La Cenerentola, in 1817 by Gioacchino Rossini and in the 1950’s found its way into Hollywood films including a Disney animated version and The Glass Slipper starring ballerina-turned-actress Leslie Caron.
There have been numerous balletic versions set to the Prokofiev music, among them Zakharov’s for the Bolshoi, Ashton’s for Sadler Wells now Royal Ballet and Nureyev’s for Paris Opera Ballet.
NBT has two different Cinderella productions in its repertoire one choreographed by Vassili Sulich in 1986, the other by Peter Anastos in 2003. Both were good but neither attained the high level of the new production.
A few of the elements that distinguished the new version from some other recent NBT works included sparkling humor that was genuinely funny and not merely predictable slapstick; spatial choreographic patterns that never left the stage with a sense of emptiness; and clarity in conveying the story without pages of written projections.
Another enhancement was the nuanced characterizations built into the choreography, such as the solos of the Prince and Jester which reflected their separate social status: the Prince’s were less flamboyant and more elongated across the stage, while the Jester’s were bouncy and involved multiple pirouettes and fast complex steps often in place.
Some wise departures and shortcuts were used in relating the story. For example, when searching for the owner of the glass slipper, the Prince is sometimes depicted traveling to different countries thus providing opportunities for numerous, but often tiresome and distracting national dances. NBT’s well-paced, succinct version had the Fairy Godmother lead the way to Cinderella’s house.
I’m familiar with Ms. Foy’s choreographies having seen and reviewed many of them over the past 20 years and I suspect that her influence was the primary source for many of the welcome innovations described above.
Emma McGirr in the title role danced well and with her large soulful eyes at times aroused sympathy for her character’s plight.
Sergio Alvarez as the Prince and Morgan Stillman as Jester were portrayed more as frolicsome young pals than monarch and subject.
The Prince passed his unwanted dance partners onto the Jester who also helped him escape Cinderella’s bumptious step-sisters. In return the Prince overlooked his frequent mischievous transgressions such as draping himself on the royal chair and sinuously spoofing the ladies’ movements.
Alvarez made a handsome Prince and, with his elegance and regal bearing, was convincing in the role. Stillman, in addition to his hilarious comedic talents, also possessed a brio technique.
Madison Ewing and Leigh Collins were wildly amusing as the step-sisters. Their outrageously exaggerated curly coiffures, distorted moves in the ballet lesson, garishly overdressed entrance to the ball and tipsy return home afterwards were all well thought-out laughter-evoking characterizations.
In a sort of acro-pas de quarte sleek Alissa Dale was partnered in overhead body transitions, sometimes shakily, by Stephan Azulay, Steven Goforth and Benjamin Tucker all of whom danced flawlessly as the Dragonflies.
Enrico DeMarco as ballet master and Christina Ghardi as Fairy Godmother and, in other Fairy roles, Kaleigh Schock, Laura Zimmerman and Krista Baker, were all especially impressive.
Whether regular company members, apprentices or trainees, there wasn’t a weak link in any of the casting
Peter Jakubowski’s skillful lighting included keeping the forest scenes appropriately darkened without diminishing the public’s view of the dancers.
It was significant that towards the end of the curtain calls, as the two choreographers began their entrance on stage, the curtain mistakenly came down eliciting a roar of protest from the patrons. It went back up - fast.
Hopefully, that curtain will rise again on more NBT ballets as superior, satisfying and successful as Cinderella.