As a child, I found Cinderella to be the least intriguing of all the Disney princesses: she was simperingly sweet, had no backbone, and needed an entire cast of characters to help her get a leg up. My conception of her character greatly changed when I, now an adult, viewed the National Ballet of Canada’s production of the tale.
Cinderella, when danced by the stunning Heather Ogden, becomes a sweet young woman who dreams of true love. Gone is the Cinderella who waits for others to accomplish what needs to be done: this new princess is a kindhearted but feisty mademoiselle who leaps into dances with grace and zeal, who is confident but not conceited, who exudes passion, beauty, and, most of all, a good, true heart. Heather Ogden exudes all these traits without speaking a word: her face and incredibly expressive body language do all the talking for her. She danced perfectly, never missing a beat and completely owning the stage. She was absolute perfection as Cinderella: she turned a character I never cared much for into someone I ached to see succeed. I cannot sing her praises highly enough.
Unfortunately, not all the dancers exhibited her precision. More often than I would have expected from the National Ballet of Canada, many of the dancers were out of sync not only with the music, but also with each other. Graceful choreography became awkward each time a dancer missed a beat, fumbled a landing, or tensely executed a movement, and as an unfortunate consequence, that crucial illusory relationship between the audience and the stage was diminished, and the magic needed for a truly majestic piece of theater dwindled sadly.
However, this is not to say all the dancers flubbed their movements. Tiffany Mosher and Krista Dowson (both, I was surprised to discover, in their National Ballet of Canada debut) were divine representations of narcissism as the evil stepsisters. Conceited and arrogant in the most amusing fashion, these two were a joy to watch. The stepmother, as danced by Rebekah Rimsay, who is now celebrating twenty years with the company, was a hilarious Joan Rivers parody who more often drunkenly stumbled around than danced. The fairy godmother (Lisa Robinson) was fine but forgettable, while the Prince (billed as Her Prince Charming and danced by Patrick LaVoie) was handsome and had a distinct air of genuine sentimentality. He may have botched a few dance moves, but Lavoie took the most stereotypical of Disney princes and made him into a flesh and blood man. The final scene of the ballet, where Cinderella and Her Prince Charming sit by the fire, was a startling role reversal. For a change, she held him. As he, kneeling on the ground before her, lays his head on her lap, I truly felt I knew this character: utterly content to have found the woman he loved and gained her love in return. It was a touching moment that will stay with the audience long after the performance is over.
The recital has more to offer than just dance, though. The sets and costumes designed by David Boechler—inspired by the Jazz Age of the 1920s—are bright and beautiful. They bring the play to life and enhance the viewing experience tenfold. Set changes are smooth and seamless, with one particularly impressive prop: that of the floating pumpkin carriage Cinderella uses to arrive at the ball. The music by Sergei Prokofiev, executed flawlessly by Martin West, is at once playful and evocative, changing from comic to somber to sentimental all smoothly in minutes to suit the fresh and fancy free choreography by James Kudelka. Kudelka deserves extra recognition for re-imagining this classic tale and its characters in a unique way that preserves what is so beloved, but also manages to deepen the characters, enhance the choreography, and alter the overall tone. As Karen Kain (Artistic Director of the Ballet) says in her introduction to the dance, he changes the thematics from ‘rags to riches’ to personal growth through the renewing force of love.
Overall, the National Ballet of Canada’s Cinderella is an enthralling and enjoyable piece of showmanship. The audience becomes emotionally invested in the characters, the dance is a pleasure to watch, and the principle dancers dazzle.
The Ballet continues until Saturday November 20, 2010, alternating between evening shows at 7:30PM from Wednesday November 17th to Saturday November 20th, and matinees at 2:00PM on Sunday the 14th, Thursday the 18th, and Saturday the 20th.
All performances take place at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, located at 145 Queen Street West. The nearest subway station is Osgoode.