Richmond Ballet’s CINDERELLA: Humor & Romance Unite
A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis
At: The Carpenter Theatre at Dominion Energy Center, 600 E. Grace St., RVA 23219
Performances: February 14-16 @ 7:00pm; February 16 @2:00pm; and February 17 @1:00pm
Ticket Prices: Start at $25
Info: (804) 344-0906 x224 or etix.com
Magic. Magic with a generous dose of humor. The Richmond Ballet’s 2019 production of Malcolm Burn’s Cinderella is the sort of magical ballet that makes little girls want to become ballerinas. (Not trying to be sexist here, just speaking from personal experience or memory.)
Set on the grand Dominion Energy Center’s Carpenter Theatre stage, with storybook scenery, elaborate costumes, and props by Peter Farmer, lighting by MK Stewart, and additional costume design by Tamara Cobus, Burn’s choreography soars into fairyland and carries the audience willingly along for the journey. Sergei Prokofiev’s romantic score is played beautifully by the Richmond Symphony, conducted by Erin Freeman.
Cinderella, her bullying stepsisters and unsympathetic stepmother, her kind but defeated father, the fairy godmother and the fairies of the seasons, the magical mice and the charming Prince are all here in this traditional fairy tale. But it’s been awhile, and I didn’t remember just how amusing this ballet is! (On opening night there was one woman in the audience who had an infectious laugh – for the first act. By acts two and three, she had progressed to laughing uncontrollably, often at the most inappropriate times.)
The physical comedy of Elena Bella (a stepsister) and Trevor Davis (The Jester) are personal highlights of the ballet. Bello is a petite powerhouse with stunning technique and a penchant for comedy, which she also demonstrated as Puck in Midsummer Night’s Dream. Davis also managed to perfect a blend of technique and comedy.
And, of course, the delicious comicality (yes, that’s a real word) of having the second stepsister played by a man, Matthew Frain, goes without saying. I was excited when I saw him appear in toe shoes, and yes, he did manage to get in a few steps on pointe. And while his role requires him to perform in an over-the-top klutzy style, he worked diligently with company members to prepare. [See a video clip of him preparing for his role with his “sister” Elena Bello: https://www.richmond.com/studio/entertainment/dancer-matthew-frain-as-cinderella-s-step-sister/video_9f728237-58fc-5a45-a063-ff64851d227a.html].
Among the more traditional roles, Cody Beaton is Cinderella and Fernando Sabino is her Prince. Their pas de deux is lush, unhurried, and beautiful. Their unlikely love story – the stuff of fairy tales – is helped along by the Fairy Godmother (Lauren Archer) and the fairies of the Seasons. Melissa Robinson is the Spring Fairy; Izabella Tokev is Summer; Abi Goldstein is Winter; and Eri Nishihara is Autumn. Nishihara took my breath away with her effortless flexibility; it seemed that each time she lifted her leg it floated to the back of her head.
Burn gives attention to the smallest detail. Even minor characters are given memorable representations, such as Mate Szentes as the pretentious Dancing Master and Khaiyom Khojaev as The Violinist with super-exaggerated gestures. I adore the Chimes: the twelve hooded figures who signal Cinderella’s curfew turn their heads on signal revealing glowing red “eyes.” Each season fairy is accompanied by a trio of student apprentices, and the guests at the Prince’s ball are all given authentic gestures and organic movement patterns that make the entire scene flow like a dream.
Humor, romance, fairy tale enchantment. What a beautiful offering for the Valentine weekend. I so much prefer Cinderella to Romeo and Juliet for the Valentine week, as I personally find that classic tale too depressing for a romantic date. Cinderella is a story ballet that allows you to fully escape into fantasy for approximately two and a half hours (three acts, two intermissions) – maybe even longer if you plan your evening right. . .
Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.
Richmond Ballet in Cinderella by Malcolm Burn. Richmond Ballet 2019. All Rights Reserved. Photos by Sarah Ferguson.