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.