Pennsylvania Ballet: Cinderella
Academy of Music
October 23, 2016 afternoon
Sigrid Payne DaVeiga
On a bright crisp fall afternoon, a vast crowd of excited fans wrapped around the Academy of Music in anxious anticipation of Pennsylvania Ballet’s production of Cinderella. One could tell this performance would be magical by the throngs of little girls in princess dresses in the crowd waiting for the moment when they might see Cinderella on the stage. What better way to enjoy a show like this than through the eyes of a child, for Cinderella is the story that dreams are made of and Pennsylvania Ballet’s presentation this day gave every little dancer in the audience a moment of seeing dreams come true.
Act One, Scene I, opened on an elaborate dark set inside Cinderella’s house with the glow of a large fireplace burning with cinders, created by Thomas Boyd and Steven Rubin. The opening scene found Cinderella, danced by Mayara Pineiro, in a tattered cinder-covered gown with an apron and handkerchief in her hair watching as her Stepmother, danced by Therese Davis, argued over a shawl, with the Stepsisters, danced by Dominic Ballard and Russell Ducker. Truly, Ballard and Ducker stole today’s show with their comical renditions of the stepsisters. In an intentional trick on the eye, Pineiro’s Cinderella looked so petite and gentle, in relation to the seemingly oversized and clunky stepsisters, Ballard and Ducker.
Pineiro’s Cinderella was quite lovely, with clean dancing and beautiful footwork, in conjunction with an exquisite capacity for physical storytelling. Her technique was beyond reproach as she wept over a portrait of Cinderella’s mother and crawled into her father’s lap for comfort only to have the portrait stolen by the stepsisters. In a highlight of special effects, foreshadowing a performance filled with magic, an old stooped beggar woman, with a dreary cape and hideous mask, designed by Patty Greer McGarity and Virginia Vogel, entered the scene and returned the portrait to Cinderella after Cinderella shared some bread with her by the fireplace.
The scene continued to the stepsisters’ preparations for the ball, which were uproarious. Ballard and Ducker delighted the audience with their competitive sparring for the attention of the Dancing Master, danced by Harrison Monaco. The Dress Maker, danced by Adrianna de Svastich, and her two assistants created a cape of flowing purple and tried to place it on Cinderella’s shoulders. When the stepsisters tore it from her shoulders, the little girl next to me in the audience shouted, “She wasn’t giving it to you, she was giving it to Cinderella!” in a heartfelt fury brought on by the passionate and committed storytelling by today’s performers.
The scene closed on a lonely Cinderella, dancing a beautiful sequence when she transitions back and forth between despair and daydreaming with delight at the thought of dancing with a prince, for whom a broomstick stands in as a partner. After a lovely, flowing variation, Pineiro’s Cinderella was joined by the old crone in the rag cloak. At once, the fireplace began to glow forcefully and the stage was filled with sparks of light as the crone stood, appearing to grow taller by many inches, and her cloak fell to the ground to reveal the breathtaking Fairy Godmother, danced by Elizabeth Wallace, standing so high in her sparkling white dress en pointe.
The sets transitioned mystically from the dingy, dark indoor space to a lofty enchanted garden replete with vines hanging from a forest of trees. Wallace’s Fairy Godmother was seamless and graceful and partnered in the most delightful way with the Dragonflies, danced by Monaco, Michael Holden, Jack Thomas, and Aleksey Babayev. Their costumes were ethereal blue-green with iridescent wings and transforming masks with large insect eyes. The fairies of the four seasons performed in beautiful flowing costumes adorned with seasonal accoutrements. Misa Kasamatsu danced the Spring Fairy variation in a beautiful green costume; her footwork was bright and pretty. Jacqueline Callahan’s Summer Fairy was the highlight of the four fairies. Her dress was a beautiful light yellow and her movements were languid and breathtaking; her fingertips were the loveliest detail in her port de bras. The little girl sitting next to me in audience gasped, “Beautiful!” as Callahan danced. Alexandra Hughes’s Autumn Fairy was charming; with beautiful arabesques and the nice touch of red fall leaves thrown from her hands at moments during the variation. Dayesi Torriente concluded the four seasons as the Winter Fairy. Her movements were soft and gentle joined by the gorgeous effect of soft falling snow on the stage. Act I closed with a tumult of movement and special effects as a clock appears high in the garden and Cinderella’s luxurious pink tutu and cape are revealed. A pumpkin is transformed into a mystical gigantic white carriage drawn by four dancers in white horse masks, so real in appearance, a child in the audience asked, “Are those real horses?” as the carriage transported Cinderella off stage for her travel to the ball.
The sets in Act Two were simply stunning as well, with a backdrop of the royal ball complete with chandeliers, large columns, and archways. Jermel Johnson opened this scene as the Jester with a series of athletic jumps and turns that made the audience breathless at his grace and athleticism. The choreography for his role as the Jester truly highlighted some of his most amazing attributes as he filled the entire stage with his force and power as a dancer. He is always a pleasure to watch and he seemed to be enjoying this piece so much, the audience joined in the merriment. In a moment of stunning prowess, he jumped in a straddle so high that his feet seemed to go higher than his head and comically looked like he kicked Ballard’s stepsister in the face. Johnson’s interplay with Arian Molina Soca as the Prince was such fun to watch as the two of them charmed and teased the stepsisters at the ball. The stepsister’s solos at the ball were sidesplitting; Ducker’s comical fouette turns were so entertaining.
The corps work in Act Two was truly magnificent and regal. The twelve Waltz Couples wore imperial costumes of flowing dark pink and purple dresses for the women and jackets for the men. The lifts and movement of the ball encompassed all of the stage with its buoyancy and grace. This was a pleasure to watch; the corps seemed to truly be enjoying working together on the stage to tell this heartfelt tale.
Cinderella’s entrance to the ball in the fantastic carriage was another striking moment as the carriage entered on an ethereal cloud of steam and fog. Pineiro’s Cinderella partnered perfectly with Molina Soca’s Prince, and the two were truly a majestic pairing. Their pas de deux matched the moments of height in the music and their lifts were so ethereal that Pineiro looked like she was touching the sky. His solo was strong and clean, a perfect prince. Pineiro’s solo was delightful and her turn series was impeccable. She closed to uproarious applause. There was a yearning from the audience that Pineiro and Molina Soca’s dance together not end. In a chilling close to Act Two, a clock began to strike and Pineiro ran off stage, her sparkling pointe shoe left behind and found by Johnson’s Jester. The curtain that closed on this scene had enormous paintings of clocks set at midnight; these were a very interesting and artistic touch to the already detailed and ornate sets.
Act Three opened to find Cinderella back at home lying by the fire, dreaming of the ball she had been dancing at with the Prince. The stepsisters and stepmother join Cinderella and recount the tale of their time at the ball. In an uncharacteristic moment, Pineiro’s Cinderella angrily swatted at the stepsisters with her broom and one could hear some of the young girls in the audience cheering for her. The scene closed with Molina Soca’s Prince and his friends, danced by Albert Gordon and Craig Wasserman, trying to fit the lost shoe on the stepsisters’ feet. In entertainment, Ballard and Ducker truly upstaged everything in the show today; their comical interpretation of the stepsisters was truly memorable and priceless. In a last moment as the true hero of the show, Johnson’s Jester discovered Cinderella and her shoe and reunited Cinderella and the Prince.
Pennsylvania Ballet’s production of Cinderella ended with a charming pas de deux between Molina Soca and Pineiro at their wedding, where they were joined by the corps in celebration of their exquisite pairing. This production of Cinderella was so much fun and a testament to the artistry of dance in alignment with stunning sets, costumes, and special effects that can make a production truly theatrical and magnificent. The dancers’ enjoyment of the tale and the creativity of the production were contagious, making for a wonderful fall event for audience members, young and old, alike.