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Washington Ballet's 'Cinderella': Spring 'Nutcracker'

Morgann Rose, Ji Young Chae, Emily Ellis, and Aurora Dickie in Cinderella, Washington Ballet (photo by Brianne Bland)

What is to prevent a ballet company from replicating its December cash cow, The Nutcracker, in the spring season? The Washington Ballet could just about make it work with its pastel-pink production of Prokofiev's Cinderella (created in 2003, last revived in 2008), made for little girls, which we saw on Friday night at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. Septime Webre's choreography even recycles some of the vignettes from his Nutcracker, including little kids as adorable butt-shaking bees and sweet snow angels. It is a traditional, wedding-cake kind of staging -- far from the updating of Alexei Ratmansky, the art deco vision of American Ballet Theater, or the mise-en-abyme staging of Yuri Possokhov for the Bolshoi -- but with enough wit and charm, and pleasing dancing, to keep adults engaged. Its smaller scale and use of recorded music -- the lovely performance by André Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra (EMI) -- might draw a negative comparison to the Russian National Ballet's touring version, but the evening is packed with laughs and sweetness.

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Prokofiev, Cinderella, London Symphony Orchestra, A. Previn
Most of the comic relief is due to the two stepsisters, cast as campy drag queens by Webre and hilariously realized by Luis R. Torres and Zachary Hackstock, the latter especially over the top with his grotesque smile and big-legged hamming. Exceptional beauty of movement came with the divertissement of the four seasons, with elegant dances by Ji Young Chae (Spring), Ayano Kimura (Summer), Morgann Rose (Autumn), and Aurora Dickie (Winter), and the transformation of Sona Kharatian's Beggar, all hunched form and pointed hands, into the tall, refined Fairy Godmother was remarkable. As Cinderella, Emily Ellis was youthful but more feisty than shy, not willing to submit to the (mild) abuse from the stepsisters but also not overly assertive in her steps. The Prince of Jonathan Jordan was earnest but more of a complement to Ellis, making for a lovely pas de deux, than a standout on his own. Andile Ndlovu made an athletic Jester, entertaining the Prince in the ball scene and creating many humorous diversions with the stepsisters.

Other Reviews:

Sarah Kaufman, Washington Ballet’s ‘Cinderella’ enchants with humor and splendid dancing (Washington Post, March 23)
The problems for the ears remain insurmountable: a ballet without live music is deprived of half of its life, its ability to stretch and breathe, its spontaneity. Washington Ballet, faced with ongoing budget shortfalls, is doing its best to make this unfortunate situation work, and its Cinderella offers much to impress the eyes. Beautiful settings are evoked through minimal sets designed by James Kronzer -- a ghostly forest, a fireplace, chandeliers, fancy tall mirrors that tip vertiginously to reflect the waltz in the ball scene -- and the costumes by Judanna Lynn are alternately outrageous (the multi-colored bustles of the stepsisters) and sickly sweet (the cloudy pinks of Cinderella and the Prince, complete with fairy-tale trains for both). It is not a production for purists and it offers little that is new about the story, but younger viewers will likely be as charmed and thrilled by it as Miss Ionarts was.

This production will be repeated today and tomorrow (March 23 and 24), in the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater.

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