Louisville Ballet's 'Cinderella Story' a High-Energy Bundle of Fun
The evening is framed by the 1957 televised version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical “Cinderella.” From that Caniparoli, together with his librettist Sheryl Flatow, creates a modern take on the story: Nancy's Dad is an airline captain who arrives home with new wife and her daughters in tow, only to die in a plane crash just after they are ensconced in the home. Invitations to a big winter dance propel us into an Arthur Murray dance studio to brush up on a few steps. Magically–it is a fairy tale after all–the dance instructor transforms into the fairy godmother who, with the help of a zany menagerie of animals, gets Nancy to the dance where she and Bob fall for each other. Of course the clock striking 12 means that Nancy has to leave. With a couple more twists, Nancy and Bob reunite, and settle in to watch the musical as the curtain falls.
This ballet creates a large palette of characterizations which the Louisville Ballet dancers embrace with zest. Helen Daigle was spot on as the larger-than-life, arrogant stepmother (also danced by Christy Corbitt Miller). Frequently seen in character roles, Daigle captures the high society elegance and ruthlessness of this woman, sweeping through the expansive choreography of this role with an ease that would be good to see in other lead roles. The “The Lady is a Tramp” sequence, in particular, was delicious. Daughters Dotty and Adeline are danced by Emily Reinking O'Dell and Miller respectively (Leigh Anne Albrechta and Ashley Thursby alternate in these roles), both thoroughly reveling in the opportunities to be bratty as well as some brilliant choreography–splits while hula-hooping!
An addition to the usual bevy of Cinderella supporters is Dog, Nancy's faithful companion, danced by Rob Morrow (and also Justin Michael Hogan). Morrow's energy was reminiscent of his Jester in the 2013 "Swan Lake," again he seemed to enjoy all of the comedic (and “aaww”) moments afforded by this role while also impressing with his apparently effortless grand jetés. Without giving away too many of the added plot twists, suffice it to say that Dog outwits the humans and is in the right place at the right time to aid Nancy.
Kateryna Sellers dances the double role of dance instructor and godmother – demonstrating in equal measure what the program describes as the person "who can be your worst nightmare/who can make your dreams come true." The dance studio is clearly her realm, where she leads her pupils through '50s dance steps with a casual assurance that demonstrates they'll never be as good as she. The godmother is much more approachable, a little dotty (she appears and disappears through the TV), and relishes the funkier aspects of the Ron Paley-adapted music.
Nancy and Bob are danced by Natalia Ashikhmina and Mark Krieger. Krieger's first role with the Louisville Ballet was in Caniparoli's “Lady of the Camellias” in which he was also paired with Ashikhmina. These two are well-matched in this piece. Ashikhmina is delightful as the unsophisticated Nancy (down to the braided hair and specs), demonstratiing a light comedic touch that she doesn't often get a chance to reveal. Krieger is quite at home as Bob "accustomed to being the center of attention," and equally as effective as he realizes that
he really does love Nancy and is devastated by losing her. In the scene when all the women show up dressed in the colors Nancy wore at the dance, his barely concealed frustration, and trepidation, is palpable. The second scene of act two when Nancy and Bob both believe they have lost the other is a poignant oasis in an otherwise lighthearted interpretation of the Cinderella story.
Ashikhmina and Krieger are both on stage but unaware of each other; their steps reflect each other's, barely missing, almost meeting; a wonderful balletic transformation of the "conditional" ballad that Rodgers and Hammerstein placed in so many of their musicals. Their grand pas de deux at the dance is a great showcase for these two dancers, of course, but their final duet, after Nancy makes it to the gathering of women and Bob, was the highlight of their dancing on Friday night. Taking full advantage of “Isn't It Romantic,” the tender lightness of this pas de deux held the audience spellbound. These roles will also be danced by Erica De La O and Brandon Ragland.
The rest of the company and the trainees inhabit servants, animals, dance studio pupils and guests at the dance. The energy and zest with which they embrace the jazzy dance steps and '50s social dances infused the whole of the Whitney in a way that is not always possible in more traditional dance forms. The addition of a live band under the direction of musical adaptor and band leader Ron Paley added to the kinetic energy of the evening. A palpable reminder that however good the recording, the relationship between dancers, live musicians, and conductor is an essential element of live dance performance. This is a good weekend for the Louisville Orchestra, who are also playing across town at the Brown Theatre with the Kentucky Opera.
The physical environment of “A Cinderella Story” is a perfect counterpoint to the music and dance realization of the '5os. Sandra Woodall's set and costume designs are both rooted in pop-culture references of the period and delightfully zany. The interchangeable set pieces which create the backdrop of the home and the dance venue suggest the "perfect" settings of 1950s TV sitcoms. And the costumes, especially for the women, are breathtaking confections–striking and sexy, and show to full advantage in the exuberant social dances. The animal costumes are quirky–from the Butler/Penguin, an obvious jokey connection, to the more outrageous Kangaroo, Rabbit, or Flamingo, among others; and Argyle, the Cat is in a class all by himself. Alexander V. Nichols' lighting (recreated by Marc Gagnon) enhances the emotional arc of the piece, with liberal use of haze and smoke to create chiaroscu effects.
The evening ended with a curtain call that continued the energy and exuberance of the performance. The dancers were unable to resist moving to Paley's post-show music, welcoming the Canadian band leader to the stage with enthusiasm for his bow. And, always a bonus for audiences, choreographer Val Caniparoli was at this Louisville premiere taking his place in the lineup, with designer Sandra Woodall joining him. The dancers–many of whom have worked with Caniparoli many times as his ballets have been introduced into their repertoire, including “Spaghetti Western” created for the Louisville Ballet–were clearly delighted to have him in their midst. It felt like there was a dance party on stage during curtain call–one that the audience wanted to join too.
A disappointment of this experience is that “A Cinderella Story” is counter-programmed opposite the Kentucky Opera's “A Streetcar Named Desire." Both the Louisville Ballet and the Kentucky Opera perform relatively rarely, and it is is most unfortunate that their audiences may have to choose between these two productions this weekend, whether because of time or of money. It is to be hoped that Robert Curran and David Roth will be able to spread out their productions in future seasons so that Louisville arts aficionadoes have more choice of dates in order to take in both the ballet and the opera.
"A Cinderella Story" will be performed again Saturday afternoon and evening.