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Ashton's 'Cinderella' a Disappointment

American Ballet Theater is back in town, with a week-long residency at the Kennedy Center Opera House. After the rare delights of their 1940s triple-bill earlier this week, it was hard not to be disappointed by the main course, a sugar-sweet production of Frederick Ashton's Cinderella, set to Prokofiev's often acidic score. At least for the adult half of the Ionarts reviewing team, that is: for Miss Ionarts, this was the event of the month. Ashton's pretty staging, with sets and costumes by David Walker (loaned by the Joffrey Ballet) and directed in this incarnation by Wendy Ellis Somes and Malin Thoors, hit all the right buttons in that regard, from the immense train of blue gauze Cinderella arrives in at the ball, to the shining fantasy carriage that whisks her off at the end of the second act, to the shiny confetti that snows down in the final tableau.

Part of the problem has to do with Prokofiev's score, which relies heavily on caricature and grotesquerie. The two drag stepsisters in this production, Craig Salstein and Roman Zhurbin, ate this up, stealing several scenes. Prokofiev created the work in the 1940s, and there is a certain Soviet disdain of the luxury trappings of the aristocracy that filters through it. Scorn is heaped on the courtly dance, fine dresses, and jewels that the stepsisters covet so greedily. Only in the pas de deux at the heart of the second act's ball do the music and movement combine to show something beautiful. Gillian Murphy and James Whiteside were a beautiful pairing, he strong and serious, she vapor in his arms in the pas de deux, but also flitting about in the first act.

Other Articles:

Sarah Kaufman, ‘Cinderella,’ with a post-performance touch of happily ever after (Washington Post, March 29)

---, These star ballerinas are retiring — graceful, and grateful, to the last dance (Washington Post, March 20)

James Kudelka (ABT)
Alexei Ratmansky (ABT)
Septime Webre (Washington Ballet)
Ashton's often cute and too often repetitive choreography makes things worse. This is most glaring at the end of the first act, where the Fairy Godmother (here the sweet and airy Veronika Part) forces Cinderella to wait for her magical transformation and watch a divertissement by the fairies of the four seasons. Of the four, Skylar Brandt's Spring Fairy and Melanie Hamrick's Winter stood out for their graceful presence. Rising dancer Arron Scott had a witty turn as the antic Jester in the second act, and Thomas Forster and Sean Stewart were pompous comic foils to the stepsisters. Whatever else one may have thought of Ashton's adaptation, he did well to cut most of the first scene from the third act, so that there was little time spent on the prince's search far and near for Cinderella. American Ballet Theater's other productions of Cinderella, by James Kudelka and Alexei Ratmansky, may be less traditional and therefore perhaps less appealing to some audiences, but this score seems to call for something more updated.

This production repeats through Sunday.

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