BWW Reviews: 'Cinderella' Dazzles With Beauty
The National Ballet of Canada's Cinderella is a delightful romp through a familiar fairy tale. Celebrating its tenth anniversary this season, the ballet offers a scintillating mix whimsy, drama, comedy, and humanity that viewers of every age will enjoy. James Kudelka's intricate choreography beautifully reflects Prokofiev's character-driven score, while the ballet's sumptuous costumes and compelling integration of dancing and acting make the production a must-see on the Toronto cultural calendar.
On now through June 15th at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Cinderella is a beautiful and poetic staging of the rags-to-riches story of Cinderella (danced opening night by Sonia Rodriguez), abused by her martini-sipping Stepmother (Alejandra Perez-Gomez) and her two flaky Stepsisters (Tanya Howard and Rebekah Rimsay), who meets her Prince Charming (Guillaume Cote) at a fancy ball, thanks to some help from her fairy godmother (Lorna Geddes) and other-worldly moths, butterflies, and assorted garden critters.
Much of Prokofiev's score recalls Peter and the Wolf for its keen sense of character and modulated scenes of drama; Kudelka's choreography brilliant complements the score through a series of carefully placed, frequently intricate steps. The first act's tailoring scene, for instance, features swishing fabrics, the contours and movements of which are mirrored in dance steps, with the stepsisters given spindly, awkward moves, while Cinderella's are girlish, whimsical, hopeful, and spritely. The spidery, insect-like choreography of the garden scene, in which creatures of the garden each dance, summoned by Cinderella's Edward-costumed fairy godmother. Their moves contrast greatly to the pumpkin-headed, tux-wearing men who suddenly enter, heralded by loud brass instruments and athletic jumps.
The second act opens with the bright flashbulb of a Photo Journalist (Kevin D. Bowles). It's a Gatsby-esque work portrayed here, with Kudelka nicely folding in dance references to the Charleston and other popular dance styles from the 1920s. The women are glamorously kitted out in feathers, beads, sparkling headresses and delicately-sewn sequence, holding cigarette holders aloft, angling chins (and noses) upward; there is, however, a notable homogeneity to their looks and their choreography, and even their dying-to-be-seen demeanor, making Cinderella's entrance (on a huge pumpkin, lowered from the rafters), her swishy outfit, and her genteel, girlish choreography all the more notable. Her sisters, adding comic relief (Howard, with glasses and goofy grin, brings to mind Agnes Gooch from Auntie Mame), traipse unself-consciously through the grand proceedings, angling after Prince Charming (Guillaume Cote) and over-eager to prove their worth. Cote himself is comfortable, confident, masculine, but not macho, and he's an immensely likeable stage presence, pairing beautifully with Rodriguez' delicate, delightful Cinderella. Their dance together is shot through with a beguiling mix of youthful shyness and excited hope, and so very sincere, we glimpse their social anxieties melting away with each kick and spin.
The ballet's third act opens with an orchestral section featuring woodwinds and plucked strings that is shot through with probing anxiety reflecting the Prince's confusion over Cinderella's vanishing, and his search to find her. Music Director and Principal Conductor David Briskin masterfully works his musicians in matching the dancers and scenery, evoking a stressful atmosphere reflecting the Prince's search for the owner of the errant slipper. Kudelka has staged a beautiful scene of an international search that includes a range of cultures and countries, as well as some historical figures; a flamenco dancer, a geisha, Amelia Earhart, even, are all asked, to no avail. The scene provides yet more dazzle from set and costume designer David Boechler, while showing off the robust choreography given to the Prince's Four Offices (Nan Wang, Giorgio Galli, Trygve Cumpston, and Keiichi Hirano), and ends in a happy scene where the ballet opened, in a busy, cluttered kitchen, where Cinderella is stuck as scullery-maid. Rodriguez' body language, placed as she is at one end of the stage (as her sisters struggle to fit the slipper at the other), is beguiling for its gentle beauty; a shy smile at the Prince, a bowed head, small gestures with arms and legs... it's the small plain beauty of these movements that give Cinderella such charm and grace. The Prince falls in love with her, and so do we. And yes, everyone lives happily ever after.
Photo credits: Top photo, Sonia Rodriguez with Artists of the Ballet; photo by Cylla von Tiedemann. Middle photo: Tanya Howard and Rebekah Rimsay; photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic. Bottom photo: Guillaume Cote; photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.