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A Luminous “Cinderella” Closes Out Louisville Ballet’s 67th Season

Sam English

The Louisville Ballet’s Season of Romance has explored romance through many different stories, from classical to world premieres, in traditional theaters and in non-traditional spaces. Circling back to one of the most quintessential romances for the final ballet of the season is a perfect way to wrap this journey.

Kristopher Wotjera plays the Prince, in his final role with the ballet, and that too seems a perfect closing of the circle of his career with the Louisville Ballet as he has played many of the classical roles over the years. In his last performances, the audience gets to see his clean line and precise footwork, and the central divertissement between the Prince and Cinderella (Natalia Ashikhimina) at the ball was charming, with the fish dive performed with assurance.

Ashikhmina was a delightful Cinderella, a believable and not sentimental foil to the antics of the Step Sisters (Harald Uwe Kern and Phillip Velinov.) The role allows Ashikhmina to show her range from an almost-soubrette characterization in Act One, demonstrating her closeness with her father (Pete Lay), her philanthropic bent, and, of course, navigating those sisters. And then the transformation into the more classical choreography for the Prince’s Ball.

Kern and Velinov do manage to steal many scenes in the course of their shenanigans. They kept the audience in a ripple of laughter any time they were on stage. Their energy throughout was impressive.

This “Cinderella” brings into Cinderella’s world a panoply of magical beings to help her with her transformation. We meet the seasonal fairies, their cavaliers, and their attendants. It’s a testament to the strength of the Louisville Ballet School that so many young dancers can be included in a mainstage production (beyond “The Nutcracker”). They danced with aplomb and charm. And the night I saw the show there were plenty of proud families in the house! The Stars are also part of the transformation. Danced primarily by the Trainee company, it was lovely to see how much more assured and precise these dancers have become during the course of this season.

Jones and Helen Starr have recreated their original production that premiered in 1979 at Memorial Auditorium. The original Act One kitchen is the original design of Michael Hottois. However, there were issues of size and practicality with the Act Two Prince’s Ball so Jones, as he did so many times during his tenure, stepped in to create an elegant set for the ball at the Whitney. The costumes for this production are also based on his original design, and we get to see again his strong sense of color and how his use of lightweight fabric enhances the choreography, especially for the magical creatures.

Annie Honebrink and Rob Morrow, who dance the Spring Fairy and her Cavalier, as well as the mysterious lady and her Cavalier at the ball, are also leaving the company at the end of this season. Honebrink, who’s been blogging and writing in recent months, contributes a bittersweet goodbye to the program. Morrow has danced a wide range of “character” roles in his time with the ballet, and last summer got to step into a romantic lead in Central Park when he danced Ferdinand in “The Tempest.”

The new Etoile printed program garnered four ADDY awards from the American Advertising Federation this year, which is a wonderful recognition for a program which is so rich in photographs and contextual information around each ballet.  However, I’m disappointed in the change of direction of how the dancers and musicians of the Louisville Orchestra are being recognized. I’m 100 percent behind the environmental desire to reduce print and paper materials as much as possible. But in a season when the Louisville Ballet and Robert Curran has done so much positive for diversity and inclusion, the lack of dancer and musician names in the program does not feel that equity is in play. Especially in a ballet in which there are so many children; especially when three dancers are leaving the company.

Yes, the company is listed in the program, and there are beautiful headshots of the whole company too. But audiences want to know who’s doing what. Surely, with just a little adjustment one page could be found for the people that make the ballet magical? The two free-standing upright banners which listed the cast close to the two theater entrances were no substitute. If anyone missed the cast lists, this is a link to the website for you to catch up.

To hold myself up to that standard, I’m very aware that when every member of the company, the trainee company, guest artists, and young dancers from the School are on stage, it is difficult to include every name in a review. What I can say is that there was not a loose link on stage. There was joy and lightness throughout the production and it was a great launching pad for the 2019-2020 Season of Imagination.