The Boston Opera House
March 13 — 23
From start to finish, Boston Ballet’s Cinderella is an enchanting telling of the beloved fairytale. Set to a score by Sergei Prokofiev and choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton, the ballet was premiered in 1948 by the Sadler’s Wells Ballet (now The Royal Ballet), and is now being performed for the first time by Boston Ballet.
The first act opens with the introduction of Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters, portrayed by tall male dancers in frilly dresses. Rather surprisingly for a ballet, they provide comic relief throughout the performance, and their humor is unrestrained and enthusiastically crude, employing plenty of slapstick and pantomime. The opening scenes depict them preparing for the court ball, their constant squabbling causing havoc and nearly inducing the collapse of their father.
In breaks from her stepsisters’ melodramatic performances, Cinderella emerges from the shadows into the limelight, claiming the stage to reveal her calm and dreamy demeanor as she mournfully contemplates a portrait of her dead mother, or dances wistfully with a broomstick.
Cinderella offers bread to a hunchbacked old woman who comes begging, and is later rewarded when the old woman returns, transformed into a stunning Fairy Godmother in an instant of visual trickery. The Fairy Godmother calls forth the four Fairies of the Seasons, who are revealed successively as one curtain behind another is raised, each wearing glittering, diaphanous gowns and accompanied by child attendants.
They perform solos evocative of their season — the Spring Fairy prances playfully, Summer is languid and serene, Fall tempestuous and blustery, and Winter icy and precise. When the Fairy Godmother works her magic and warns Cinderella of its caveat, twelve stars — one for each hour — dance on the stage. Their dancing and the music vacillate between foreboding and hopeful, mirroring the optimism and nervousness of Cinderella before she is transported off-stage in a pumpkin carriage pulled by two mice.
The second act is set in the Prince’s palace, where courtiers in velvet suits waltz with their partners in plumed headdresses. After their bumbling arrival, the stepsisters compete for the attentions of two historical celebrities, the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon Bonaparte (who amusingly loses his wig at some point).
When Cinderella makes her grand entrance, it is a highlight of the evening. She enters on pointe, her wondrous gaze raised to the audience. Slowly and regally, and still on pointe, she descends the main staircase without once looking down, escorted by the Prince. Unbeknownst to the audience, he squeezes her hand to let her know when she has reached the first step.
Her subsequent solo involves a seemingly endless number of twirls, and is answered with an athletic solo by the Prince, and the presentation of his gift of three oranges.
As the night draws to its close, the two perform an exquisite duet, but all too soon a gauzy screen appears, displaying a clock face striking midnight. Behind it, the twelve stars return to the stage, and Cinderella attempts to make her escape between their urgent dancing and the ominous sound of a gong. Finding her way blocked in turn by the Prince or his jester, the tension builds until a look-alike dancer in rags replaces her, and she flees off-stage.
The abandoned prince holds up her dropped slipper for all to see. Even after the auditorium lights turned on to signal the intermission, the dramatic staging lingered in the mind of everyone in the audience.
The third act is a short and syrupy finale. Maintaining the humorous tone, the stepsisters are caught in a state of undress by the Prince as he searches for his lost love. When Cinderella comes forward to help one stepsister try to stuff her foot into the tiny shoe, the matching shoe falls out of her apron.
In a touching moment, the Prince gently lifts Cinderella’s face up to his, not quite daring to believe he has really found her. After a celebratory interlude by the twinkling stars and the Fairy Godmother, the pair returns in resplendent cream and gold costumes. Eschewing a showy dance, they turn their backs on the audience and hold each other lovingly as the curtain descends.
As a comic and traditional production, Cinderella is more amusing and somewhat more accessible than other recent productions by the Boston Ballet. The humor is genuinely funny, although sometimes excessive, and the production focuses on telling the classic tale rather than complicated choreography.
The music and the staging are entrancing, and the dancers are adept at conveying the emotions of their characters. Cinderella takes an old story, and infuses it with life, magic, and grandeur.