American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
New York, NY
July 7, 2007

by Leigh Witchel
copyright © 2007 by Leigh Witchel

American Ballet Theatre closed its season with a pinch-hitter and a guest. Stella Abrera danced the lead in “Cinderella” substituting for Xiomara Reyes; Guillaume Côté from the National Ballet of Canada was her Prince Charming. This version of “Cinderella,” created by James Kudelka and set in a Roaring Twenties of Marcel waves and society photographers, deletes most of the oppressive elements of Cinderella’s family and life. Her stepmother is a drunk, her sisters nasty, and she still has to dust, but she is not the suffering maid we usually see.

This has been a good season for Abrera. A soloist with the company, she’s performed extensively in leading roles and gained impact onstage. There is comparatively little dancing in Kudelka’s version, but Abrera was charming in what she had, including a solo with one bare foot and the other in her bejeweled pointe shoe.  While Kudelka’s conception of Cinderella is brighter than others see her; it has its odd notes. When she first arrives at the ball, (no staircase for this lass, she descends upon the ball in an airborne pumpkin) instead of love at first sight, she avoids the prince and flirts calculatingly.

Côté originated the prince at NBoC in 2004 and his familiarity with the role shows. He’s NBoC’s ascendant prince and the biggest fish in its pond right now. It’s interesting to see him at ABT, where the competition is fiercer. Côté has gorgeous, elegant lines and partnered Abrera securely. He’d do four pirouettes, but not always on a fully stretched leg. His technique did not have the obsessive steeliness it might if he were dancing here. He’s quite capable of that but I’m not sure it would be a good thing. In Toronto, he’s ingratiating and believable in every role and valued like a precious resource. Here, I think he’d push himself harder yet just be another underused porteur.

“Cinderella” is a sunnier and funnier ballet than Kudelka usually makes, but in many ways it’s typical of his work. Though Kudelka doesn’t trust ballet and tends to fuse it obsessively and awkwardly with contemporary vocabulary, his acrobatic duets are his hallmark and the best dancing in the ballet. As is also typical for Kudelka, the story is unclear; there are details that seem fully formed in Kudelka’s imagination and never make it on to the stage. It’s also typically emotionally erratic. There are sweet moments, as when the dressmaker uses Cinderella to model a ball gown, but also a tasteless joke about a one-legged girl. Apart from that sour moment, the third act where the prince searches the world over for the girl who fits the shoe is wittier and livelier than the rest of the ballet. David Boechler’s Art Deco designs are handsome, although the giant Swiss chard in Cinderella’s garden reminded one more of Japanese monsters than Eden.

The stepsisters are the most beloved part of any version. They’re danced by biological females here, silly rather than ugly. Simone Messmer was a blonde would-be vamp who nearly choked herself after a seductive drag on a cigarette; Jacquelyn Reyes stole almost every scene as a bespectacled combination of Edith Prickley, Bugs Bunny — and Tank McNamara on her final dive tackle of the prince. Sasha Dmochowski weaved and tottered as the stepmother; Wes Chapman played a ubiquitous photojournalist.  Kudelka’s conception of the fairy godmother as a mysterious wealthy lady in old-fashioned clothing is cryptic; Jennifer Alexander couldn’t enliven it. The prince’s four officers have some of the most difficult choreography and looked beset by it.

Photo on front page: Gillian Murphy in "Cinderella" by Marty Sohl

Volume 5, No. 27
July 9, 2007

copyright ©2007 by Leigh Witchel

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