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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 10, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 06
Pacific Northwest Ballet presents a very modern, very funny and very moving 'Cendrillon'
Arts & Entertainment
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Pacific Northwest Ballet presents a very modern, very funny and very moving 'Cendrillon'

by Sharon Cumberland - SGN Contributing Writer

PACIFIC NORTHWEST BALLET
'CINDERELLA/CENDRILLON' (1999)
MCCAW HALL
February 4 (through 2/12)


Sergei Prokofiev's glorious ballet score, 'Cinderella,' has been set for dance by many choreographers, including Rostislav Zakharov - Prokofiv's original collaborator - Frederick Ashton, Rudolph Nureyev, and Ben Stevenson (the version famous for its men-in-drag stepsisters). Increasingly popular, however, is the version now on view at McCaw Hall - French choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot's very modern, very funny, and very moving 'Cendrillon.'

We all know the Cinderella story, and many of us know the music, or would recognize it the minute we heard its haunting and tuneful melodies. This version of the fairy tale conforms more closely with Prokofiev's own vision of the central character as a real person, whose lost mother becomes her fairy godmother. As in the original story her father is in the clutches of a selfish, grasping stepmother and her two rapacious daughters, but what's missing here are the familiar props: mice who turn into coachmen, rags that turn into a ball gown, a pumpkin that turns into a coach, and, most of all, glass slippers that become the key to Cinderella's transformation from a cinder-girl to a princess.

Yet in this more naturalistic, adult version of the fairy tale, we don't miss the magic tricks at all, because the real magic is in the contrast between the worldly selfishness of the stepfamily and the heartfelt sincerity of Cinderella. The space between these two world-views is hilariously filled by two flamboyant 'Pleasure Superintendents' whose over-the-top preening brings La Cage aux Folles to mind.

The wonderfully clever staging of this ballet by Ernest Pignon-Ernest is the first thing you notice - moveable panels that look like leaves of paper and transform from a house to a palace and, most cleverly, to a sailing ship as the Prince searches the world for his mystery girl. Maillot wisely withholds the raucous comedy of the stepmother-and-daughter trio, wearing weirdly erotic chin straps and corsets, until Cinderella's love for her mother, as well as her Father's sexual entrapment by his new wife, is established. Once we understand the emotional situation, Maillot can heap comic implausibility on us without reverting to Disney-esque sentimentality.

Shades of Maillot's 'Romeo et Juliette' from last season are conjured up when the Prince and his four buddies enter leaping, tumbling, and somersaulting like Romeo and his buddies did in Verona. This is not a complaint - Maillot is particularly powerful as a choreographer for young men, since he was a young ballet dancer himself for many years, and it's pure pleasure to see their dances - I wish there had been even more. This Prince is particularly edgy, with a foot fetish rather than the stately dignity we expect, and so we accept as reasonable that Cinderella's fairy godmother covers her feet with golden sparkles rather than glass slippers.

Maillot's choreographic style is in perfect service to his modern mode of storytelling. Cinderella herself is barefoot throughout, not only to emphasize her poverty compared to her pointe-footed stepfamily, but to separate reality from fantasy, humility from selfishness, and true love from self-promotion. The duet between her and the prince, charmingly danced by Elizabeth Murphy and Jerome Tisserand, showcases Maillot's control between the angular, muscular male choreography and the fluid, graceful movement of Cinderella, who drapes herself around the Prince as if he were in a river of love.

What I loved the most about this terrific production was the secondary characters - quite a compliment when the traditional ballet productions of 'Cinderella' usually have dozens of beautifully clad corps members or supernumeraries just standing around to create a grand effect. In Maillot's version there are extravagantly weird additions such as the Pleasure Superintendents and their team of four mannequins - four big men wrapped in muslin like Frankenstein's Monster. They goofily model ball gowns for the stepsisters and pantomime the future for Cinderella - the bad future if she were to buy into the whole wealth-is-better-than-love premise that motivates the stepfamily.

These six secondary characters bring a whole dimension of humor and morality to the story that is missing from other productions, and that makes the story more immediate to the audience even though we are still in a fairy-tale world. Steven Loch and Miles Pertl deserve a big shout-out for their hilarious performance of the enthusiastic, endlessly optimistic Pleasure Superintendents, who bring a touch of joie de vivre to every scene in which they appear.

As always, this wonderful music is wonderfully played by the PNB orchestra. It's worth a trip to McCaw Hall just to hear this lush score so beautifully performed; but to have Maillot's spectacular ballet on top of that is the best deal in town. What could be a better pre-Valentine's Day gift to your loved one than a trip to PNB's 'Cinderella/Cendrillon'? It's at McCaw Hall through February 12.

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