James Kudelka set American Ballet Theatre’s premiere of “Cinderella” in the jazz age, reflected in David Boechler’s deco-inspired costumes and sets. The ballet largely satisfies, offering some eye-popping theatrics, Kudelka’s choreography to persuade things along, and Prokofiev’s grand score stitching it all together. Not surprisingly, sadness, hilarity, and romance ensue in this production first performed by the National Ballet of Canada in 2004.
Kudelka’s naturalistic dance phrases transition easily from acting/mime scenes to ballet’s formality. Act I features a barefoot Cinderella (Julie Kent) trapped in a suburban McMansion-like kitchen, doing chores and taking daydream breaks to jeté about and avoid run-ins with her tippling stepmother (Martine Van Hamel) and klutzy stepsisters and their escorts (Erica Cornejo, Carmen Corella, Craig Salstein, Isaac Stappas), who prepare for the prince’s soiree. Her fairy godmother (Susan Jones) grants her a respite in the garden, where she encounters many flitting creatures, including allegorical flora—Stella Abrera, Veronika Part, Misty Copeland, and Maria Riccetto, who gives her the all-important bejeweled pointe shoes which allude to a coming-of-age.
At the prince’s (Marcelo Gomes) party, his guests slink onstage to mug for a photographer. The assembled couples waltz, whirl, and slide in shifting lines. To alternately staccato and fluid music, the men snap into angled-arm shapes; the women softly snake their arms and totter on pointe—a variation of stiletto heels. The maroon background—framed above by a collision of floral prints—unfortunately prevents the dancers’ black-clad legs from being seen. The prince is filled with ennui until Cinderella descends from the sky in her splendid pumpkin. He shadows and echoes her motions until they begin a rapturous, suddenly fierce duet. He literally sweeps her off her feet before they part at midnight; Cinderella stripped to her skivvies. Pumpkinheads signify time by leaping skyward one-by-one, following the clock’s hands, catalyzed by the crowd rushing clockwise like a tornado.
In the final act, which begins in a shoe shop, the prince and his men, (Jared Matthews, Jesus Pastor, Sascha Radetsky, Gennadi Saveliev) now in dashing white, seek the errant shoe’s owner. The now spare, backlit stage—cerulean blue with projected whipping clouds—shows off the dancers and gives them space to move. Like a special handshake sequence, the men clasp hands and charge off, leaping and hurtling thrillingly across the stage, passing skiers, skaters, and women from Spain, India, and Japan. Eventually the prince arrives at Cinderella’s house; the shoe fits, they marry, content to settle away from the clamoring crowds and paparazzi.
Kent made an empathetic Cinderella with her remarkable ability to transform from ashen to radiant. She paired beautifully with Gomes—a perfect prince, ardent and tender, with striking looks and exacting yet effortless moves. In another cast, the technically nonpareil Gillian Murphy appealed with coy charm and playfulness. No one cuts a nobler figure than her prince, David Hallberg, who lacked the dramatic impact of Gomes but thrilled with his precision and line, as with a perfectly shaped leg and foot extended in second. Xiomara Reyes played an innocent Cinderella to guest artist Guillaume Coté’s suave prince—he originated the role. His impressive specialties—left-hand pirouettes and allongé arabesques—branded the choreography.
Erica Cornejo, as the bespectacled stepsister, brilliantly impressed as a total physical comic, and it was a hoot to see the sublime classicist Maria Riccetto go banzai in the role in another cast. The prince’s footmen made an excellent showcase for the company’s talented men, notably Radetsky and Matthews. Veronika Part imbued the role of Twig with majesty, and Stella Abrera confidently attacked the allegro steps of Moss.
Setbacks include a monotonous first act, an over reliance on caricatures and slapstick, and some continuity and lighting/set problems. But ABT’s top-flight dancers greatly enhance everything they do, and Kudelka embraces the evocative musical motifs penned by Prokofiev. In the end, “Cinderella” is an entertaining contemporary retelling that deserves a future turn in repertory.