Saturday, February 4, 2017

'Cendrillon' Pacific Northwest Ballet's Valentine

Noelani Panatastico (c), Sarah Ricard Orza, Rachel (l-r)

REVIEW: Cendrillon

McCaw Hall, Seattle

One does not have the opportunity to see Prokoviev’s “second” ballet, Cendrillon, as often as his iconic Roméo et Juliette, which has become more ubiquitous in the classical repertoire. That made PNB’s season-of-love offering all the more special for Seattle ballet mavens.

“Magical” is the optimal word to describe this production, which received its world premiere in 1999 with Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo and was seen for the first time at PNB on Feb. 3 at McCaw Hall. This version of Prokofiev’s Op. 87, written from 1940-1944, included a winsomely choreographed excerpt from the composer’s Lieutenant Kijé (1933-1934).

With a radiant Noelani Pantastico in the title role, and other PNB rep favorites James Moore, Lesley Rausch, Rachel Foster, Sarah Ricard Orza and Seth Orza performing their respective roles for the first time, topped by the appearance of guest artist April Ball as the pivotal Fairy/Mother character, the quirkily modernistic but dazzling production held together beautifully. From the glitter that adorns Cinderella’s bare feet before the ball to the flash and shimmer of the Fairy/Mother’s transparent tutu, the look of the production was lustrous.

“Cendrillon is not merely a fairy tale personage,” said the composer, “But also a living being whose destiny moves us.” Choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot, a guiding light at Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo since 1993, takes this message to heart, as he reimagines the character as a soulful, breathing entity in search of recognition and love against all odds, guided by a Fairy godmother-type reincarnation of the girl’s late mother. The story took on a new life in this interpretation, in which the concept of Pleasure (with a capital “P”), along with the dichotomy between the real and the surreal, are ongoing themes.

Maillot, who previously brought Prokofiev’s Roméo et Juliette to the PNB stage, takes full advantage of the lugubrious stretches and pointed blips of musical phrasing to elongate the dancers’ lines and give them ample opportunity to spring into the air in short double-footed leaps with impressive grace. The repeated motif of a dancer being swiftly carried through the air as if in a dream state of being unable to touch the floor embodied the trancelike quality of the story’s overall theme.

Those audience members expecting a traditional take on the perennially beloved fairy tale were in for a surprise, especially with Jérôme Kaplan’s decidedly non-traditional costumes. Ball gowns draped on semi-mechanized Mannequins, tutus with wires instead of netting, and Hollywood Red Carpet-type frocks with sheer organza revealing total expanses of leg were the order of the evening. Ernest Pignon-Ernest’s captivating minimalistic set designs consisting of a largely geometric backdrop of moveable panels enhanced by projections and mirrors, brilliantly enhanced by Dominique Drillot’s pastel-shaded lighting, gave the production a luminosity that was both enchanting and realistic.

April Ball and James Moore
Music Director Emil de Cou’s sensitive interpretation of Prokofiev’s delicate, haunting score, along with Maillot’s engaging choreography and clever, eye-catching staging by Bernice Coppieters, Bruno Roque and Asier Uriagereka, provided the perfect opportunity for the PNB ensemble to display their lyrical capabilities and technical prowess with a sparkle that matched the glow of Cinderella’s love-struck, ingenuous face. At times highly amusing and alternately introspective, the action flowed continuously with nary a dead spot.

Pantastico brought a panoply of emotions and grace to her light-footed rendering of the overwrought, neglected and mistreated stepchild in search of love and recognition. Ball’s Fairy/Mother brought attention to her every move, yet her presence never overwhelmed. The magical spells she weaves are entirely convincing, and the affection between her and Pantastico’s Cinderella is both touching and gratifying.

Lesley Rausch’s sexually charged Stepmother sizzled with tensile energy in her every scene. Her lightning-quick antics with Seth Orza’s beleaguered Father were both amusing and shocking. Quick-stepping stepsisters Rachel Foster and Sarah Ricard Orza provided the perfect comic foil for their mother’s deplorable behavior. A duo of obsequious male Pleasure Superintendents, played with outrageous Triplets-of-Belleville-meets-Minions abandon by Steven Loch and Miles Pertl, supervised the adornments for the ball.

Lesley Rausch, Steven Loch and Miles Pertl
Prince Charming, like Swan Lake’s Prince Siegfried always in the company of his friends (Kyle Davis, Benjamin Griffiths, Price Suddarth and Ezra Thomson), tries unsuccessfully to satisfy his need for validation by indulging in small pleasures: always searching but never finding what he thinks he is seeking. Appealingly played by James Moore, this Prince managed to engage in unabashedly adolescent attitudes while still maintaining a sympathetic presence. His love duet with Pantastico was seamless and deeply moving, and the athleticism he and his cohorts displayed (of special note was their grand entrance aux entrechats down the staircase in the ball scene) was impressive.

James Moore and Noelani Pantastico
To balance all of this flurry of activity with a dose of reality, the Fairy/Mother doppelganger cautions Cinderella before she goes off to attend the surreal ball symbolically clad in her mother’s former ball gown, to look beyond glitz and glamour and focus on what is truly important: simplicity.

The story comes full circle as the journey evolves from Cinderella’s grief in the beginning to her enlightenment and well-deserved reward of true love, with her father taking over the mantle of bittersweet heartache with which the story begins, leaving the audience awash in conflicting yet deeply uplifting emotion.

The ball may be surreal, but the struggle between good and evil in society is all too real. PNB’s radiant Cendrillon captures the heart and stirs the imagination in ways that reminds us that good will indeed prevail. It definitely is worthy of being seen more than once upon a time.

Cendrillon continues through Feb. 12, 2017


 Photo credits: © Angela Sterling

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