an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me | Advertise | Follow me:


This article originally appeared in the Culture section of Bloomberg News on June 5, 2006.

June 5 (Bloomberg) — Made for each other, the shy young woman and her awed princely partner can barely let their eyes meet, let alone allow their hands to touch. Yet in the space of a few minutes their hesitant dance escalates into an ecstatic declaration of love — the kind that lasts forever after.

This appealing duet is a high point of James Kudelka’s 2004 “Cinderella,” given its New York premiere by American Ballet Theatre on June 2 at the Metropolitan Opera House.

Set to the familiar Prokofiev score and tweaking the old story with pop psychology, the three-act ballet is the centerpiece of the troupe’s spring season, which runs through July 15. It was originally created for the National Ballet of Canada, the choreographer’s home base, and staged by the Boston Ballet in 2005.

Instead of a Cinderella who’s the victim of malice, Kudelka conjures up a suburban heroine who is emotionally deprived by an alcoholic stepmom and a pair of materialistic stepsisters.

He has chosen to banish Dad and any hint of the benevolent biological Mom, whose death led to her daughter’s sorry plight. This is his privilege, of course, though in exercising it he banishes some of the pathos crucial to the Cinderella theme.

Kudelka, who says in interviews that he loathes the idea of a moneyed, powerful hero playing savior to a passive heroine, also introduces the idea that Cinderella and the Prince rescue each other.

More Jokes, Please

Via Cinderella, the Prince can flee a court corrupted by excessive luxury and social snobbery. The happy pair settles down at Cinderella’s address, in the cozy domesticity of well-swept hearth and well-cultivated garden, miraculously rid of dysfunctional relatives.

Unfortunately, these concepts aren’t easily conveyed through dancing. They’re more the stuff of interviews and program notes. And Kudelka’s tinkering, simultaneously, with life’s realities and beloved “myth” is a dangerous business. What’s more, the comic elements of the ballet, such as the stepsisters’ unseemly antics at the ball, are uninspired slapstick.

However, several passages of pure dancing are very good indeed — suave and inventive. The mutual declaration- of-love duet blends naturalism with the standard classical- dance vocabulary and comes up with poetry. Solos for the four spirits of nature who transform Cinderella into a belle of the ball are distinctive for their color and charm.

Myopic Stepsister

The dances for the ensemble are intricate yet windowpane-clear. And David Boechler’s snazzy art deco costumes — contrasting black and white with riots of color — make everyone look compelling.

Leading the opening night cast, Julie Kent and Marcelo Gomes were picture-perfect, with dance capabilities to match. Erica Cornejo’s radiant glee made the outlandish behavior of the myopic stepsister tolerable.

Two cameo roles stood out. As the stepmother, Martine van Hamel, a beloved ABT ballerina of the 1970s and 1980s, portrayed a lady as desperate to maintain her dignity as she was to procure her next drink. Ballet mistress Susan Jones brought Dickensian depth to a Fairy Godmother conceived by Kudelka as a benevolent, slightly bossy Edwardian dowager.

Ashton, Disney

Kudelka hasn’t created a “Cinderella” for the ages. The unforgettable treatments of the theme are the perennially touching 1948 ballet by Frederick Ashton — to be presented in October by the Chicago-based Joffrey Ballet — and Charles Perrault’s sly and elegant 17th-century rendition of the tale.

There’s no ignoring the 1950 Walt Disney film, either. Once seen, it’s never forgotten, even if you despise it. But for an evening’s entertainment — or, better yet, an afternoon’s, in the company of a child — Kudelka’s “Cinderella” will do.

© 2006 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

an ArtsJournal blog