- The Washington Times - Friday, May 30, 2003

The Washington Ballet’s world premiere of “Cinderella” this week unveiled a delectable-looking production that emphasizes the fantasy, fairy-tale qualities of the story.

The new “Cinderella,” which concludes with four sold-out performances this weekend, is full of enchanting moments, vibrant dancing and visual appeal. However, a full-length ballet also depends on dramatic continuity, and this “Cinderella” needs to tighten dramatically — to find ways to deepen the story line and blend the dancing and mime more seamlessly.

The first act is the most completely realized.

We are introduced to our heroine, Cinderella, danced to perfection throughout by Michele Jimenez, whose radiant stage presence and sweetness of manner make her ideal for the part. Her dancing is pure and true, and she continues to expand the sensitivity of her musical response and subtlety of phrasing.

Acting as foils are her two stepsisters, preening bumptious creatures played in drag by John Goding and Richard Krocil. Mr. Krocil is over the top with his mugging at first but settles in with a truly funny, high-style series of stumbles and pratfalls.

The first act also has the best set — a rather massive kitchen interior designed by Alain Vaes that dissolves into a softly colored garden scene. (The sets are on loan from the North Carolina Dance Theatre.)

The company’s director and “Cinderella’s” choreographer, Septime Webre, has brought his imagination to play in this scene, presided over by the heroine’s Fairy Godmother, a warmly authoritative Erin Mahoney. Mr. Webre has peopled the stage with a host of charming creatures big and small — fairies, dragonflies, a bevy of roses, a couple of putti figures and, last but not least, four busy buzzing bees.

What he has done is not only imaginative, but clever: He has found an appealing way to emphasize the strength of his whole enterprise, which consists not only of the rapidly improving professional company, but the nationally renowned Washington School of Ballet and his organization’s newest venture — DanceDC, its outreach program.

The bees come from that program, and for one brief, bright moment four 7-year-old boys skitter and flutter around the stage as outlandishly colored bees and steal the scene.

Other young and more advanced students from the Washington School of Ballet blend successfully with dancers from the company as roses and butterflies. Also in the first act, Micah Saviet stood out for his miming as a violinist, and Puanani Brown, partnered by Matthew Dowsett, was a fine little putti.

Most important, the scene also includes inspired, sensuous choreography for the fairies of the four seasons that matches a similar languor in Prokofiev’s music for this section. Some of the most beautiful dancing of the evening comes in these four short solos — and some of the most beautiful costumes of the evening too, created by the accomplished designer Judanna Lynn.

Opening night, Kathleen Breen Combes was a revelation with her wonderful airy lightness as the Spring Fairy; Brianne Bland (who performs the role of Cinderella at some performances) again impressed with the fullness of her dancing; and Morgann Rose and Laura Urgelles were excellent as the Fall Fairy and Winter Fairy respectively.

Even here, though, the sweep of the scene was marred by dead moments of silence on a bare stage between their variations.

The second-act ball scene is dominated by the massive columns of Mr. Vaes’ design — impressive but too overpowering. It features yards of dancing that makes full use of classical ballet steps and displays the company’s competence, but it does so without striking originality or design.

Runqiao Du is an exemplary Prince, dancing with his usual elegance and aplomb and partnering Miss Jimenez with suave authority.

The company’s newest virtuoso, Jonathan Jordan, bounds through his pyrotechnic solos in a handsome costume but with a dreadful hat that destroys the line of his body in space.

The moment when the clock strikes 12 and Cinderella belatedly leaves the ball is well-staged, with the company frozen in place as she dashes around in a panic.

The final act is something of a letdown until the end. In the scene where the Prince searches throughout the world for Cinderella, the stage is bare except for a starlit night sky, his courtiers leaping about, and no sense that he is traveling the world. A spinning globe, a panorama of sorts or something is needed to make sense of the scene, and the bare-minimum ethnic dances — Spanish, Tunisian and Siamese — don’t help.

Before the Prince arrives, Cinderella is alone, thinking of him. She may be remembering her happiness at the ball, but there is no poignancy or sense of loss until she suddenly covers her face at the end of the solo. Here is a moment when the choreography could suggest more depth to her feelings.

Still, the ballet ends with a fine flourish. After the Prince finds his Cinderella, creatures from the garden scene reappear, the two principals are again dressed in fairy-tale costumes trailing long gossamer cloaks, the stage is aglow, and clearly everyone is going to live happily ever after.

As for this “Cinderella,” it has enough impressive dancing and dramatic finesse that some fine-tuning could bring it, too, to a happy conclusion.

***

WHAT: The Washington Ballet in “Cinderella”

WHEN: Today at 2:30 and 8 p.m., tomorrow at 1 and 5 p.m.

WHERE: Eisenhower Theater, Kennedy Center

TICKETS: $29 to $75

PHONE: 202/467-4600

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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