Joffrey’s CINDERELLA Remains A Classic

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Highly Recommended: Reviewed by: Bob Sphatt

Sir Frederick William Ashton’s dazzling three-act Cinderella (1948) is a story of hope fulfilled as comedy of contrasting characters and a classical ballet dense with sensuous movement; this treatment of the old fairy tale takes the prize for dramatic poetry and love for exacting classical technique. Last night’s opening of the Joffrey Ballet’s final offering of their season played to a capacity crowd who appreciated a childlike sense of wonder. Artistic Director Ashley Wheater’s company is in great form and it goes to prove that there is nothing as beautiful and satisfying as a classic and romantic story ballet. Classics are classics for a reason and people attend to take part in the wonder of the eternal fight between good and evil. Sir Frederick would have been quite contented with the Joffrey edition of his work. Each time I saw him he was warm, charming and had a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

Sir Frederick Ashton, who took training from Leonide Massine and Marie Rambert, became chief choreographer of the Vic-Wells Ballet (now The Royal Ballet), creating such works as Le Baiser de la fee, Les Patineurs, A Wedding Bouquet, Danto Sonata, Symphonic Variations, Scenes de ballet, Cinderella (the first British full-length classical ballet), Ondine La Fille mal gardee and many others over a career of 50 years plus. In his Cinderella, he and Sir Robert Helpman danced the roles of the two-stepsisters in a delightfully inspired British pantomime style; last night’s audience ate it up.   It is the familiar fairy tale story of poor, rag-clothed Cinderella but the evil stepmother role has been cut and replaced by Cinderella’s father – really a thankless role.

The evening was complete with ever changing original scenery and magic. Even this reviewer was amazed with the transformation of the pumpkin into the fairytale coach (complete with pyrotechnics) which circled the stage whisking Cinderella to the ball. This moment of magic was a short one and not over played leaving the audience thrilled and wanting more. The multi-numbered settings and glorious fairy tale costumes (all looking new and fresh) were by David Walker and premiered with the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden in December 1987 and supervised by Ashton. Scrim after scrim and tableaux after tableaux kept the eager audience wanting more. The former great danseur noble Michael Somes’ widow, Wendy Ellis Somes, was Repetiteur and the stage shouted “classical British ballet!” from the minute the act curtain rose. Ms. Somes is regarded as an important link in passing down the Ashton tradition and is much in demand around the world staging Sir Frederick’s ballets. She was assisted by Sweden’s Malin Thoors.

The Joffrey’s Musical Director, Scott Speck, is also the Artistic Director for the Chicago Philharmonic and had the orchestra firmly under his control. The Prokofiev score is a difficult one especially for the brass and Maestro Speck proved his ability to lead and control the orchestra. Prokofiev conjures superb nightmare music for the strokes of midnight.

Cinderella was danced by Victoria Jaiani who must have the strongest ankles in the mid-west! She sparkled. The choreography keeps her either on pointe and on demi-pointe for the majority of the evening. She was stunning in her Act II pas de deux with Dylan Gutierrez as the Prince. He excelled in the adagio portions and gave Ms. Jaiani the support she needed in the demanding balancing of this dance. The stepsisters were dance by the very talented and very funny David Grombert (guest artist for this engagement) and Rory Hohenstein; the audience loved the two men! Even though the roles are comic they are quite demanding and require advanced technique to make the roles comical and funny while being a tour de force to dance. The men were not over the top.

Derrick Agnopletti as The Jester performed some of the most athletic choreography of the evening and was given the majority of choreographic challenges in defying gravity. His elevation, extensions and turns were exact and superb! Edson Barbarosa was comical as The Jeweler while The Fairy Godmother was danced by April Daly. I commend her for keeping her role submissive to that of Cinderella and not doing what many ballerinas would do – hog the spotlight. I applaud her for understanding her role. The Summer Fairy was a divine and sprightly Anais Bueno. Ashton, in a nod to British history includes Napoleon (Fernando Duarte) and Wellington (Artur Babajanyan) at the ball in several hilarious comic scenes.

The most marvelous sequences were the ensembles. The corps de ballet of 12-Stars danced their great Act I waltz, astonishing in its rapid changes of geometry, with bite and sweep, and in Act II, after Cinderella’s entrance into the ballroom, they became a multidirectional force field creating a dangerous magic around her first dances with the Prince. When the second corps de ballet of four male-female couples, the four Season Fairies, and the Prince’s four friends join the throng, there are dances of dizzying complexity. In quick succession, dancers face backward and forward, left and right, down and up. In Act III, the Fairy Godmother enters in a cloud of stars created by the illuminated star-wands of the 12-Stars; a wonderfully magic moment. The choice of giving Cinderella a parachute cape to wear for her entrance to the ball was a sad one…better to cut it.

The enchanted audience rose to its feet as the curtain calls began and in no time the shouts of “bravi” could be heard ringing throughout The Auditorium’s hall. A great time was had by all. Run to The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University and get your tickets now. There are only 10-performances through May 22, 2016.  Visit www.joffrey.org

 

 

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