Ebullient 'Cinderella' lets her hair down

Published February 16, 2008 12:00 am
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Ballet West's "Cinderella" is so entertaining that audiences are in danger of forgetting they're watching the serious business of classical ballet.

Ben Stevenson's "Cinderella" (1970) is a theatrical experience with straightforward narrative and pratfall comedy. But the plot doesn't come at the expense of some absolutely luscious choreography. Story ballets typically mete out the inventive choreography to the principal dancers and soloists, leaving the corps de ballet to do a lot of posing, pointing and nodding. But Stevenson's version of "Cinderella" is more like a Broadway show where the supporting cast is as responsible as the leads for its success.

The Waltz in Act II is a hypnotic blend of organized choreography and organic movement. It reminded me of the systematic yet natural path of a flock of birds. Deep, low lifts grew higher and more dynamic in response to the music. And arm movements ran counter to what would seem the natural flow to follow the legs but created a dynamic visual line that connected one dancer to the next.

It has been many years since I last saw this "Cinderella," and done by a different company, but one consistency is that the Ugly Stepsisters steal the show. To make the sisters really ugly, men are cast in the roles. On opening night, dancers Jason Linsley and Chris Rudd were hilariously hideous, raucously rude, and way too big to be girls. Linsley is one of the biggest men in the company and his uni-brow accentuated his failings at femininity. Rudd is so funny it's almost hard to believe he will also dance the role of Prince Charming.

Soloist Peggy Dolkas was an extreme contrast as the Fairy Godmother. She is amazingly beautiful on stage. The Fairy Godmother is not a huge part, but Dolkas lights up the stage with palpable joy at being there. Her ability to deliver emotional content makes me wonder why she was not cast as one of the Cinderellas.

Soloist Katherine Lawrence perfectly played that role on opening night -- maybe a little too perfect. She was technically flawless, but there is so much opportunity in the choreography to tell a richer story and connect with her Prince Charming, and that didn't happen. Lawrence showed no transition in her character from servant to princess, and the compassion Cinderella shows for her tormentors that makes her character so special was not evident. But Lawrence was more expressive in the last pas de deux that ends Act III.

The chemistry between Lawrence and Prince Charming, soloist Michael Bearden, was also lacking. Bearden seems to lose, rather than gain, confidence as he performs more leading roles. He needs to trust his abilities rather than telegraph his preparation for every turn and fear for every landing.

Stevenson's choreography also tells the story of love on an allegorical level by personifying the seasons. Heather Thackery, as fairy Spring, was lilting and classically exact. Annie Breneman lent Summer a soft dream-like quality. Elizabeth McGrath described Autumn with billowing warmth. And Kate Crews was a commanding and powerful presence as Winter.


Ballet West's 'Cinderella'

WHERE: Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City

WHEN: Reviewed Thursday Friday; continues today at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 20-22 at 7:30 p.m., and Feb. 23 at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Warm-Ups discussions an hour before curtain are free for ticketholders.

RUNNING TIME: 2 hours and 25 minutes, with intermission and one pause.

TICKETS: $16 to $66 at 801-355-ARTS or http://www.arttix.org.

BOTTOM LINE: Have some fun at the ballet -- you'll be glad you did.

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