Keller Auditorium, Portland, OR; February 28, 2015
During the second act ballroom scene of Oregon Ballet Theatre’s presentation of the Ben Stevenson production of the classic and cautionary tale, “Cinderella”, the Prince gives each of his guests an orange as a gift. One fruit short, the transformed from rags to tutu and crown Cinderella offers the shorter of her two stepsisters her own, which is eagerly accepted.
Ushers at West End Theatres in London historically sold orange juice and ice cream up and down the aisles (indeed, in the intermissions they still do sell the latter). No popcorn, but these things were considered luxury items and nice to have.
Today’s populace doesn’t perhaps realize just how rare and valuable oranges once were. They certainly didn’t grow in England or in Russia but were most likely imported at great care and expense from Valencia, Spain or those environs.
It’s an important and dramatic telling point in the ballet, further enhancing our viewpoint and insight into Cinderella’s character and values – and she’s certainly not found wanting. The crone/fairy godmother of act one gives a similar litmus test to our heroine – she comes in uninvited and is welcomed to the hearth and fed by Cinderella. As we all know, she then rewards Cinderella by magically transforming her and sending her off to the ball in a pumpkin carriage pulled by four mice/horses.
The topic of oranges needs to be added to the already informative and lively pre-performance perspectives – I’m guessing that it may seem odd to many benighted audience members why the Prince gives these out. After all, can’t we just go down to Safeway and easily buy a carton of them?
Although this is The Year of Cinderella – in plays, musicals, and movies (every producer must have gotten the same memo), presenting a large-scale blockbuster ballet like this is all too rare, but happily for us, it is the first new full-length ballet added to OBT’s repertory by its new Artistic Director, Kevin Irving. From start to finish it is a happy experience, even for the stepsisters and the mean stepmother, who is forgiven and hugged at the end.
Glorious music melds with a well thought out concept from choreographer Ben Stevenson – who was espied in the foyer, attempting to tackle (not too successfully) its cash machine and who got to take a bow with the company, along with stager Janie Parker. Costumes and sets (on loan from Texas Ballet Theatre) were excellent, too, and are just right in their complementary values and hues.
The dancing was on a high level too – everyone looked tight, in shape, primed and thoroughly ready, as was the mighty OBT Orchestra. A nice addition and use of the company men was the inclusion of them as “Dragonflies” to accompany the season fairies. One of them, Avery Reiners did double and amazing duty not only as a snappy dragonfly but also displayed much equal pizzazz as the court Jester in Act II. His split in second leaps and a final double tour en l’air that ended in second position in the air before alighting were exciting and thrilling, and something rarely done.
The fairies, danced by Ansa Deguchi (Spring), Jessica Lind (Summer), Candace Bouchard (Fall), and Eva Burton (Winter), each represented a different side to what they were telling Cinderella through their strong dancing, with one being spritely and another more languid and lyrical yet together, rounding each other out. Perhaps this is why the Fairy Godmother (Martina Chavez) shows them to her charge, giving Cinderella a sense of beauty and hope – and a chance for her to discreetly run off stage and change into her ballgown tutu.
Part of the joy of observing OBT over the past dozen years is to see the growth of its dancer-artists and the reward that comes with it. This is the case with Brian Simcoe, a native of Grants Pass, whose transformation from corps to starring prince is exciting and certainly well-deserved. Not only has he, like so many, worked hard, but he has deployed his natural talents in a focused and clear way – clean lines, strong technique, excellent partnering skills, and the depth that only experience brings. When he is onstage, we are confident in his abundant abilities and his authoritative and calm presence, which calms us so that we can fully enjoy the show.
Similar praises can easily be told of Xuan Cheng, the Cinderella of the opening night. Well cast, she also brings great technique – sparkling, strong, and with depth and nuance of acting to her scenes and interactions.
Brett Bauer made for a very tall and husky stepsister, with Michael Linsmeier as his/her perfect foil, with much of the visual comedy and pratfalls centered around this unlikely and funny pair.
OBT’s ballet masters were put to work and good use as the Stepmother (Lisa Kipp) and the hapless and weak-spined Stepfather (Jeffrey Stanton).
I was thrilled too that the second balcony of Keller Auditorium seemed to be filled as well. Too often we’ve enjoyed great ballets by OBT but only to see that the region’s population needed to do a better job of showing up. I hope this healthy trend continues in the long term future and also in the near term, for OBT’s next show of the Spring in the Newmark, a few blocks away.