It would be hard to find a Cinderella ballet that we don't love. Well, the Mariinsky found one; but mostly, Cinderella is a winner whenever she sweeps into the room swirling to Prokofiev. It’s one of those (politically incorrect, according to a vocal minority without daughters) stories about goodness in the world winning out in the face of ugliness by being patient and always doing right without stepping on anyone’s toes. In the end, the ugliness reforms its ways and everyone gets along. Such a terrible story. So harmful to the psyche of little girls. Yeah, right. Girls will never achieve happiness by taking the “high road” and brushing off nastiness. In two weeks, the glass slippers will be under a pantsuit and girls of all ages everywhere will feel like Cinderellas.
Pennsylvania Ballet just wrapped up its run of Ben Stevenson’s rich production of Cinderella at the Academy of Music. Initially created for the National Ballet of Washington in 1970, it has been performed by many companies all over the world from Queensland to Portland. George Balanchine chose it for the Geneva Ballet when he was the artistic advisor for a time. The production was also presented by American Ballet Theatre where Angel Corella danced the roles of Prince and the Jester and still regrets not having had the opportunity to chew scenery as a Stepsister. In recent years, Stevenson has reworked sections of the ballet for different companies, and the sets and costumes, originally by David Walker, are for the Pennsylvania production by Patty Greer McGarity (costumes), Virginia Vogel (costumes), Thomas Boyd (sets), and Steven Rubin (sets).
Our draw to go to Philly for a performance was the Prince, Sterling Baca, who was one of the many talents suffocating in the ABT corps from lack of oxygenating opportunities until Pennsylvania Ballet Artistic Director Angel Corella threw him a lifeline with respirator. We came home Saturday night with new favorites among the ballerinas to go along with our already-favorite Lillian Di Piazza and Mayara Pineiro.
For the eleven performances of Stevenson’s Cinderella, Corella put together six different casts of Cinderella and Prince that spanned the ranks of the company. Three corps women were dropped off the edge of the diving board into the principal ballerina deep-end of the pool to swim for the title role. Two corpsmen and a soloist joined them as Princes. This type of growth-oriented casting should bring some calm to those still worried about whether Pennsylvania Ballet will lose its Balanchine bravery. This was his tradition which continues today at NYCB and also in Philadelphia.
At the Saturday 5PM performance, Oksana Maslova and Sterling Baca were bona fide fairytale from head to toe. Ms. Maslova along with Sara Michelle Murawski as the Fairy Godmother and Yuka Iseda as the Spring Fairy yielded checkmark [✔︎] arabesques and attitude positions with such flexibility that one wondered if they even had 33 vertebrae among the three of them. Ms. Maslova’s were of particularly fine form with a beautifully lifted torso and no visible strain. Her Cinderella was not a helpless captive victim but more of a young girl who realized that she couldn’t choose her relatives and had to make the best of her family situation with all its dysfunction. Her dreams and imagination were set free by joyous dancing with her broom and by keeping the memory of her birth mother alive even when that prompted scorn from her stepmother, the rather glamorous looking Holly Lynn Fusco, who one would never have guessed could have delivered the likes of Charles Askegard and Ian Hussey as the Stepsisters. There could be another ballet for discovering who their real father was.
When Sterling Baca's Prince arrived at the ball to trumpeting fanfare in Act Two, he did so in royal form with beautifully stretched sautes and arabesques. Nothing in the world would make him pause on his quest for the woman of his dreams until he met the unexpected gaze of Sister Askegard’s eyes and nearly came too close to her purpose-filled lipstick. He looked at her curiously before suddenly pulling his head back like he’d just sniffed ammonia – all of it tickled the audience with its perfect comedic timing.
The PdDs danced by the Prince and his Cinderella were filled with dreamy romance and elegance. A difficult double fish pose that went right and then left was done with such ease that we were disappointed we didn’t get to see it a second time.
In addition to the lovely Yuka Iseda as the Spring Fairy, this cast had the luxury of Lillian Di Piazza as the Summer Fairy, Mayara Pineiro as the Autumn Fairy and Dayesi Torriente as the Winter Fairy. Jon Martin, an instructor in Pennsylvania Ballet’s school whose own pedigree goes back to Ruth Page and Harold Lang, was the Priest who performed the nuptials of Cinderella and the Prince. The Corps de Ballet supplemented with apprentices performed with precision and joy.
All through the performance we were impressed with Baca’s confidence and the sturdiness of his technique. The stage walk in deep parallel plie at times looked a little like a Marx Brother, and there is a need for continual attention to turnout and stretching the fronts of the ankles, but overall, this performance was triumphant. We are very excited about the prospect of seeing his Ali in Le Corsaire this spring after he works intensely with Corella.
The HH Pump Bump Award, a Stuart Weitzman Cinderella glass ankle boot with diamonds, is bestowed upon Sterling. We’re glad that he didn’t go any farther away than Philly.