Dance Review: If the Shoe Fits — Boston Ballet’s “Cinderella”

Boston Ballet is showcasing a number of its ballerinas in the title role of Cinderella.

Cinderella, presented by Boston Ballet. Choreography by Sir Frederick Ashton. Directed and supervised by Wendy Ellis Somes with rehearsal director Malin Thoors, music by Sergei Prokofiev, sets and costumes by David Walker, lighting by John Cuff, conducted by Jonathan McPhee. At the Opera House through March 23.

By Debra Cash

When Frederick Ashton — he hadn’t yet been knighted — created his first full-length ballet for Sadler’s Wells (later to be known as Britain’s Royal Ballet) in 1948, he chose the fairy tale of Cinderella. He cast himself as the more insecure of the heroine’s two Stepsisters and slipped in some autobiographical jokes, like the way he occasionally lost track of what he was doing in mid-rehearsal. Originally paired with the great dancing mime Robert Helpmann and later with company choreographer and director Kenneth MacMillan, this tour de force reformed the crass, tweety caricatures of English Music Hall drag with keenly-observed sweetness. When it’s done right, Ashton’s Stepsisters are never really mean: they’re merely thoughtless ninnies aspiring to pleasure. Cinderella may be the ballet’s heroine, but the two Stepsisters are its leading ladies.

For opening night of Boston Ballet’s Cinderella, The Stepsisters were danced by corps de ballet dancer Boyko Dossev and veteran BB principal Yury Yanowsky. The gap in their years of stage experience showed. Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg may be leading a charge to retire the adjective “bossy” these days, but Yanowsky’s Stepsister is a delicious exemplification of the word, a fairy tale Joan Rivers few generations and a few notches removed from Barry Humphrey’s Dame Edna Everage. Dossev, hiding under his big sister’s skirts, telegraphs the role’s prissy shyness instead of embodying it. Maybe over the course of the production he’ll learn that this girl just wants to have fun.

As Ashton’s choreography tells the tale, Cinderella is the most British of story ballets in the manner virtue triumphs by discovering its properly designated place. Boston Ballet is showcasing a number of its ballerinas in the title role. Opening night, it was easy to believe that Misa Kuranaga was a young girl still grieving the loss of the mother memorialized in the portrait she sets up on the fireplace mantle: she is so petite that when she lays her head against the shoulder of Roddy Doble, playing Cinderella’s spineless father, she could be all of 12. Kuranaga’s dancing is always distinguished by lovely, precise footwork and nothing says “glass slipper” more convincingly than her entry into the ballroom in a froth of green tulle as she tip-toes carefully down the stairs. In the ball scene, she and her ardent Prince (Jeffrey Cirio, the picture of purity in a blazing white costume) are as matched as pair of Meissen porcelain figurines.

As Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, Petra Conti was a bit tentative in her solos, (a problem that Kathleen Breen Combs, who is dancing both Cinderella and the Fairy Godmother during this run is unlikely to have) but provided some lovely moments in a series of flowing arabesques at the end of Act 1. Of the seasons who whisk Cinderella off into a ball governed by the passage of time, Anais Chalendard seemed to dress herself in a shawl of air in the leisurely Fairy Summer variation, and Dusty Button‘s Fairy Winter crackled with a cold snap’s worth of suspended animation, her arms ultimately loosening into a brief thaw. When the entire court kneels, it’s like the blooming of some idealized English garden. And at the end of this brutal Boston winter, what could be more welcome?

Debra Cash has reported, taught and lectured on dance, performing arts, design and cultural policy for print, broadcast and internet media. She regularly presents pre-concert talks, writes program notes and moderates events sponsored by World Music/CRASHarts and cultural venues throughout New England. A former Boston Globe and WBUR dance critic, she is a two-time winner of the Creative Arts Award for poetry from the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute and will return to the 2014 Bates Dance Festival as Scholar in Residence.

c 2014 Debra Cash

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