Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cinderella -- Festival Ballet Providence, October 2007

Leticia Guerrero in a publicity still for Cinderella
I wrote this review a year ago for Ballet Talk

An incredibly innovative performance of a new contemporary Cinderella was performed October 19, 20, and 21 at the Veteran's Memorial Auditorium in Providence by Festival Ballet Providence, artistic director Mihailo (Misha) Djuric.

Viktor Plotnikov was a principal dancer with Boston Ballet from 1993-2003 (his wife Larissa Ponomarenko is currently principal dancer with BB) and from 1998 has choreographed numerous works in Boston and for many other companies and schools, as well as choreographing pieces for major ballet competitions, for which he has also received many prizes. He has created many commissioned works for Festival Ballet Providence in the last few years.

His Cinderella was a contemporary masterpiece, incorporating steps and movements new to the ballet stage. The use of props was striking and appealingly clever, as were the special effects which created the magic that Cinderella needs, especially for today's children raised on Disney's version. This was anything but Disney -- as far from Disney as one could get -- probably much to the initial disappointment of Sunday afternoon's child-filled theater, many of whom came dressed in official Disney Cinderella costumes -- but there was magic -- Plotnikov's version.

There was a fairy godmother whose entire dress lit up, huge soap bubbles in the air which changed to festive ballroom lights, a golf cart which whisked Cinderella off to the ball, an imposing mechanical clock made up of 13 children (students from the Festival Ballet Providence Center for Dance Education) and Cinderella's magic dress. Lest this leads you to think the piece was in any way fluff, let me dispel the notion -- pouf! -- as instantly as Cinderella's drab gray garment changed to a bright yellow dress when touched by the magic sunflower.

The artful use of props like enormous balls, cubes, planks, and cones, and moving doors to change the set design, needs its own review. Think of Drew Carey's "Whose Line is it Anyway?" -- the segment where the panel of regulars shows the many uses and moods a single prop can convey. That will give you a rudimentary idea. Now imagine that made large scale, with several dancers moving props simultaneously to transform the stage set and to surprise and enchant us.

Oh, and did I mention that all the costumes were black and white (with a few pleasant and necessary exceptions that were part of Cinderella's transition from real life to magical going-to-the-ball life), and so was the cat (admirably -- and very authentically -- portrayed throughout the ballet by Ilya Burov)?

This was a modern Cinderella the likes of which no one has seen before. The music was indeed Sergei Prokofiev's Op. 87, there were an evil stepmother (although this one was more like an upper east side New York modern mom who treats her nanny like a slave) and two evil stepsisters (again, not so evil .... more a spacey sister and a wannabe young socialite sister), an adorably loyal cat, a fairy godmother, handsome prince and lots of dancers at the ball, but there was also Cinderella's father (after all, where does a "step"mother come from?) who softened the poor girl's solitary existence and longed to spend more time with his daughter (whenever he could get away from the stepfamily).

Leticia Guerrero
Three acts and two intermissions long, the ballet enthralled until the perfect ending, when the prince found his Cinderella and they were showered by, first, a dusting of yellow petals, then, a spring petal shower of torrential proportions that made the audience ooh, aah and squeal in delight.

The intended prince was Gleb Lyamenkoff, but he was injured about a week before the performance and Mindaugas Bauzys saved the day. Borrowed from Boston Ballet, where he is a soloist (his wife Vilia Putrius, also formerly with BB, dances with Festival -- she was the stepmother), Bauzys had to learn the part in less than a week. He did a magnificent job (there was a lot of choreography for him to get into his mind and muscles) and was a perfect prince, from his beautiful line to his flawless technique and speedy execution of tricky steps. The company dancers had a few weeks to get used to the quirky head, neck, upper body and arm movements that Plotnikov devised, but Mindaugas had only days. He danced as if he, too, had been rehearsing for weeks and knew the ballet cold.

Mindaugas Bauzys
Leticia Guerrero was Cinderella in every performance and, because of her unsylphlike lines, was a welcome new choice for the plum role. She is also a flawless dancer, with especial gifts in making complex movement look like a breeze and in drawing the attention of the audience (especially the children, who also glommed onto this new, shorter, dark-haired latino Cinderella and made her their new favorite).

Guerrero is well known as a principal dancer with this rankless company and has a wide repertory of main roles in her arsenal. She was a wonderful Cinderella and seemed well-suited to the weird Plotnikov movements and pas de deux. There was one rather conventional PDD that she and the prince were given to dance during their falling-in-love scene, which showcased their smooth partnering and effortless flow through lifts and traditional steps. This was immediately followed by another pas de deux of the Plotnikov persuasion, which they also carried off with exciting, though odd, lifts and flexed-foot steps and intentionally jerky approaches to movements.

Lauren Kennedy, one of the stepsisters (her role was shared with Jennifer Ricci -- each had 2 performances) was a beguiling spacey sister, who, with her long, long legs and arms really created a compelling caricature of a girl who can't be bothered to apply herself to anything, including standing up. She repeatedly had to be lifted out of a deep plié, only to sink back again, or out of a 180 degree sidesplit, or carried off as a statue because she was too fixated or spaced out to change the position of her body. Her comical rendition of this role was so much fun!

Ricci tailored the part to her own personality and strengths. The difference in appearance of the two dancers is like night and day. While Kennedy is long-boned and blond, Ricci is tiny and dark-haired. A veteran with the company (this is her 17th year) she is gifted in comedy -- a regular Lucille Ball. Watching her expressions as she goes through the same steps is rollicking good fun, and her ballet technique is well-honed and effortless.

Erica Chipp and Lauren Menger shared the role of the "wannabe" stepsister on alternate days, each dancing with aplomb the strange choreography while giving a definite personality to the character portrayed. They ran Cinderella only a little bit ragged as they were more focused on finding their own way to appeal to the prince.

Every featured dancer exhibited strong technique and accomplished stage presence. There was always so much going on and so many places to look that it was easier as an experienced audience member (who enjoys watching the ballet training that went into each performer's development) to pick just a few dancers to follow rather than try to take it all in. It helped to attend three performances. By the third go, I had a grounding in this complicated ballet and enjoyed it even more than the first two times.

I will not review my own daughter's performance in it, as that just isn't right, but you have to know that when she was onstage I had eyes for no one else. :)

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