Of all fairy tales, Cinderella is probably the most familiar. It has been recounted in books, plays, movies, TV shows, operas, and ballets. Each generation seems to embrace the story: A gentle young woman goes to live with a selfish step-family that harasses her and reduces her to scrubbing floors, but she never loses her loving disposition. By being kind to the Fairy Godmother, who comes to her disguised as a vagrant, Cinderella is dressed elegantly, put in a crystal carriage, and sent off to the prince’s ball, where she meets and falls in love with the guest of honor. They are separated, but after they are reunited, they marry, and in the fable’s timeless message, Cinderella generously forgives everyone who mistreated her before her good fortune.
Texas Ballet Theater presented artistic director Ben Stevenson’s wonderful setting of the story last weekend in Bass Performance Hall, and in a sense the ballet might be Stevenson’s own Fairy Godmother. His first full-length work, it was commissioned in 1970 by the Washington National Ballet when he was transitioning from performer to choreographer after a leg injury ended his dancing career. The ballet’s success earned him a co-directorship at the Washington company and an instant reputation as an important young choreographer. He has since choreographed a warehouse full of spectacular ballets.
Opening night showed that his Cinderella choreography is still fresh and original. Leticia Oliveira created a moving title character, capturing her loneliness and strength in the first act as she fends off her step-family and her joy and release later while dancing with the prince, performed by Andre Silva. The two seemed to have a special chemistry onstage, and they gave a sterling performance of the ballet’s two adagio pas de deux. One included a series of walking lifts creating the illusion that Oliveira was floating effortlessly across the stage, a seamless performance that brought a big response from the audience. There also was a showoff section handled brilliantly by both dancers, which generated another energetic round of applause.
The Ugly Stepsisters, performed by men in the balletic tradition, Alexander Kotelenets and Drake Humphreys, kept the comedic pratfalls and selfish grabbing for everything in sight under control and didn’t try to take over the show. Anna Donovan, TBT’s principal ballet master, was a stern and cold stepmother and made you wonder why Cinderella’s meek father, played by Tim O’Keefe, TBT’s associate artistic director, ever married her.
Marlen Alimanov, the court jester who is actually an aide to the prince, delivered some awesome solo work. His jumping splits were excellent and his turns great.
An ensemble of 10 couples at the prince’s ball, dressed in red, waltzed in combinations and patterns I don’t recall seeing before, from Stevenson or anyone else. The group was beautifully rehearsed, and the effect was stunning. In fact, the whole performance was grade-A ballet.
Sergei Prokofiev’s moody score –– he revels in minor keys –– gave remarkable atmosphere and depth to the evening, lifting it from a child’s story to an adult theater piece via the conducting of Michael Moeicz, who led the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra in the pit. Christiana R. Gianelli’s subdued lighting, recreated here by Lisa Miller, added to the overall sophisticated effect.