Saturday, November 27, 2010

Back to the Ballet with Cinderella

Other than The Nutcracker, I don't think I've been to a full ballet with sets (which for the ball were sort of art deco style), fancy costumes (kind of flapper/1920's with white pointe shoe versions of Dorothy's ruby slippers), and a whole 2 hour story telling experience.

Sonia Rodriguez as Cinderella (all photos from National Ballet of Canada website)
That changed Nov. 18 when I took advantage of the National Ballet of Canada's DanceBreak program and ended up with Ring 3 seats to Cinderella.  In a surprise twist to the evening, Sonia Rodriguez danced the part of Cinderella.  I've wanted to see her perform for a while, so that was a great switch.  When I was on a Sergei Prokofiev kick a while back, I listened to the score and didn't particularly like it, but seeing the dance and watching the music being played completely changed my perspective.  The conductor for the evening was Martin West, a guest conductor from the San Francisco ballet.  Unfortunately I couldn't really see through heads to watch him very much.  Additionally I wasn't able to spot the new concertmaster Benjamin Bowman.  After seeing him perform last season as a guest soloist, I was hoping to see him again, but he didn't seem to be there.  The clarinetist though was amazing!  I had a great view of him, and will assume it was principal Max Christie.  There are so many clarinet solo type lines throughout the score and his tone, clarity and speed was perfect.  Ohhh to be able to play like that!

We arrived just in time for the pre-ballet chat with Ballet Master Lindsay Fischer.  His explanation provided more depth to the story than I ever thought possible.  While still a fairy tale, at the hands of choerographer James Kudelka it has become so much more.  Some may consider what Lindsay said reading too much into a simple story, but I like it!  Cinderella has become more than just a nice girl who doesn't do anything and ends up getting a fancy, rich life with a prince.  Instead she remembers what it's like to be loved, and shares that love with other around her.  Even after being tormented by the stepsisters and ending up on the floor crying, she offers hospitality to the old women (aka: Fairy Godmother) who can barely bend over.  A reminder that with all our problems, there's someone with more, so be grateful for what we do have and share it.

The stepsisters are not portrayed in drag as other productions sometimes have them, but maintain a self-centered attitude, unwilling to expand their horizons to anyone else.  I agree with Lindsay that it's better to chuckle at their comical ways recognizing the humour in having done similar things ourselves, rather than laughing at them, which makes us no better than how they treat Cinderella.  For example, when learning to dance (some funny moments, particularly in odd looking lifts with the dance instructor prior to the ball) or trying to attract the attention of a particular guy (they have great solos at the ball with their escorts trying to prevent them from throwing themselves at the Prince).
At the Ball

Lindsay also brought out the theme of conformity,  that today people want to conform to what society says is best, keeping up with the Jones, and getting their 15 minutes of fame.  All the ball attendees (particularly the stepsisters) are quite eager to pose for the photographer at the beginning of the ball in Act II.  The awkward movements, particularly of the men, gives a mechanical feel.  Indicating these people aren't the real thing, they're putting on what they think society wants so they can get ahead but aren't being true to themselves.  Outward beauty is the goal, rather than the inward beauty Cinderella has that extends out from her touching others.  Indeed as the garden fairies return near the end of the ball (prior to the Prince and Cinderella's pas de deux I think) they have fans and the "fake" attendees get blown away in the wind, leaving Cinderella and the Prince.  A reason was also proposed for why the Fairy Godmother tells Cinderella to leave the ball by midnight.  That being, if you stay too long amongst people who value only the material things, if can affect you as well, hence the reminder of midnight to not be negatively influenced by these people, but stay true to yourself.

Guillaume Cote as the Prince
In the end, the Prince goes around the world (which is a phenomenal sequence of dances with the Prince and his aides against a blue sky and white cloud background, where they meet individuals from various places - a Spanish dancer, a Japanese girl in a kimono, even an Amelia Earhart take off) trying to find Cinderella, and eventually finds her in his own backyard.  They reject the wealth and fame the world has to offer, content with the simplicities of a small wedding and life.  James Kudelka is quoted in the program about his creation saying, "...the ballet [shows] the possibility of creating a new and intimate world that has nothing to do with being rich and famous.  That's why it's not about the Prince elevating Cinderella to glory, as in traditional versions.  In a way, she elevates him."  Here's hoping that being open to new experiences and sharing with those around us will result in everyone meeting their special someone.  (PS:  to whoever my someone is, I'm still waiting to meet you :) )

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