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National Ballet of Canada
by Kate Snedeker
November 11, 2010 -- Four Seasons Centre, Toronto, Ontario
After the annual summer ballet drought, the patience of Torontonian ballet fans was well rewarded with the return of James Kudelka’s “Cinderella”. A more contemporary interpretation of the traditional fairytale, this Cinderella reveals flashes of choreographic brilliance, bolstered by outstanding performances in terms of both technique and character. Still, as with his other full-length ballets, Kudelka seems to falter in terms of telling a cohesive, compelling story.
Kudelka’s Cinderella differs from most other stage versions in the softness of the edges; there’s less clash between good and evil, and more quirky, gentle humour. Cinderella is not so downtrodden as ever busy, her stepsisters more inept social climbers than cruel or vindictive. The stepmother, a boozy blend of EastEnder’s Peggy Mitchell and Bend in Like Beckham’s Paula Paxton (the mother of Keira Knightley’s character), was far more pathetic drunk than evil schemer. This trio of inept in-laws, danced by Tanya Howard, in a debut, Rebekah Rimsey and Joanna Ivey, were delightfully conceived and acted. The sisters’ preparations, complete with tailors, dance teachers and paid escorts, were full of comical detail, but story seemed to get lost in this detail. The two key pieces that seemed to be lost were the invitation to the ball, and the evil or ill treatment from which Cinderella needs an escape.
When she does escape, however, Cinderella is treated to some of Kudelka’s most inspired choreography. The creatures of her beloved garden, Blossom, Petal, Moss and Twig bring her the pieces to create her ballroom fantasy in a series of fluttering, delicate dances. The uncredited dancers were all superb, attacking the quick steps with breezy aplomb. Lorna Geddes’ Fairy Godmother was a kind soul, but somewhat lost in the story. The choreography also shines in the large group scenes, with the intricate, weaving steps for the pumpkin-headed ballroom men particularly effective and memorable. It was the scene that finally blended the magic of ballet and fairytale. However, the steps disappointed a bit in the ballroom scene, as Kudelka seemed to ignore some of the musical highlights, and the sparkly, but simply draped dresses didn’t capture the ebb and flow of Prokofiev’s grand waltz.
In the second act, the sweeping ballroom choreography also highlights Cote's ability to blend steps together into natural dance phrases. In twisting from a downward grasping motion fluidly up into an attitude derriere, Côté created one unbroken motion out of many, difficult steps. The effect would have been even more mesmerizing, had not the prince’s dark tail-coat and trousers blended in so well with the other men and the dark backdrop. Equally, Rodriguez had to make Cinderella stand out with the power of her dancing - something she accomplished and then some - because her ballgown was hardly a fairy tale creations. If her fairy godmother could send her to the ball in a flying pumpkin (a uniquely spectacular form of rapid transport!), she could surely have whipped up more of a dress! Rodriquez is a true balletic treasure not only in her impeccable technique, but in the emotion she brings to the simplest motion. Her first few moments on stage revealed a novel’s worth about her Cinderella.
As a whole, the dancing - save the usual occasional first night nervous bobbles - was the high quality we've come to expect from NBoC. Each and every dancer brought something to the ballet. Keichi Hirano was delightful as the dressmaker.
When happily ever after happens, the ballet soars in a spectacular final pas de deux. With Rodriguez and Cote at their finest, and Kudelka taking full advantage of the music, the audience is treated to a few minutes of pure ballet heaven. It's love and joy expressed through sweeping choreography crowned with lifts where Rodriquez soars up to halt in attitude derriere. Cote is given a chance show off his brilliant turns, Rodriguez her ability to layer her dancing with a natural, un-fussy intricacy. Together they go beyond the steps to create an emotion. There are few ways better to end a ballet. And oh, what a dress – the silken, knee length concoction that Cinderella wears for her wedding is totally chic.
The excellent orchestra was conducted by David Briskin, the set and costume designs by David Boechler and the lighting design by Christopher Dennis.
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