Charming

By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  October 16, 2007
Arts & Cultural Center.
 
“I didn’t know whether to be strictly neoclassical and traditional with this story,” Plotnikov reflected in a post-rehearsal conversation last week, “or did I completely want to crash and make my own interpretation? That all collided in my head.”
 
Those collisions have produced some of the most memorable dance images in Rhode Island in the past few years, under the artistic direction of Festival Ballet’s Mijailo Djuric. Ask anyone who gasped at the opening scene of Coma, with dancers lying on swaying platforms to portray the Purgatory-like state of being comatose, or those who smiled at the whimsical broom come-to-life in Plotnikov’s take on Chris Van Allsburg’s The Widow’s Broom.
 
Cinderella will be closer to the latter in its unfolding narrative and the breadth of its cast, with a new, upbeat view of its heroine.
 
“She’s a very happy person,” emphasized Plotnikov. “Cinderella’s very happy about her life and the things that happen to her. It doesn’t upset her; she’s uplifted, very positive. At the same time, she’s very childlike. She can love very maturely, but the child-ness inside her heart and her soul helps carry her through the difficulties in the family.”
 
Thus, the opening scenes show Cinderella (the always-expressive Leticia Guerrero) playing with her cat (a very frisky Ilya Burov) and with a ball given to her by her father (Mark Harootian). In the course of the ballet, balls of all sizes are rolled, bounced, or positioned, and along with cones and cubes, they represent toys, furniture and other household objects. Large fiberglass panels also play a major role, as they are carried across the stage to unveil new scenes or to move a character from one room to the next.
 
The ballet’s costumes suggest a modern era, and in the third act, Prince Charming (Boston Ballet’s Mindaugas Bauzys) searches for Cinderella throughout the world via plane, train, and car. But Plotnikov maintains that he has placed the ballet in “no specific time — it just hangs in space. It’s like a chess play without the actual set; it’s just the game.”

Seen in rehearsal, the first act is packed with character development. The stepsisters have their humorous moments, but Plotnikov is adamant that he does not see them as silly or stupid: “Both of the sisters are beautiful women, though one is narrow-minded and expects everything to be one way. That’s where the comedy is, once she starts to be in the crowd of other people. They are both a little too conservative — all of their belongings in the house and the way they look at fashion are behind the times.”
 
In a scene with the fashion designer and the tailor, one of the two stepsisters repeatedly sinks into a deep plié, one hand over her head, in sheer boredom. That hand provides a convenient “handle” for the tailor, the designer, and the stepmother to pull her back up as they pass by.
 
“When she’s at the ball with people in high society,” Plotnikov explained, “she’s so not into the conversation that she’s not listening. She’s just looking at her nails or talking on the phone. That’s just the way she is.”
 
One of the things that makes Cinderella such an engaging production is the large cast, including eight young girls who portray the fire in the hearth and 12 older children who represent the clock ticking off Cinderella’s deadline. There’s even a short pas de deux by a young boy and girl that foreshadows Prince Charming and Cinderella’s dance. That second act at the ball is filled with dancing lords and ladies, flitting fairies, and the antics of the stepsisters. 

You don’t have to be a child to be pulled into this timeless fairy tale: Prokofiev’s dramatic music and Plotnikov’s evocative movement will take you there.
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