Among the tinier audience members, just about one out of two was wearing a tiara at the opening night of Maine State Ballet’s “Cinderella” on Friday, and during the two intermissions many of them were dancing.
The little ones were a good reminder to the adults that ballets – especially staged as professionally as this one – are not highbrow productions to be critically observed, but exciting, escapist entertainment to be luxuriated in.
The “Cinderella” score, by Sergei Prokofiev, is an abstract ramble with significant darkness, strikingly dissimilar to Tchaikovsky’s confectionary “Nutcracker Suite,” the most familiar child-friendly classical ballet.
Artistic director and choreographer Linda MacArthur Miele has succeeded brilliantly in creating a steady dramatic flow throughout, and in picking out the themes throughout the score that give punch to both the dramatic and the humorous moments.
As staged by Miele, the ballet flows by in a way reminiscent of a sung-through musical like “Miss Saigon.” That is, the dancing is constant, but the focus is strongly on story-telling, with few excursions into story-free movement.
The iconic waltz, which closes out the second act, was lovely, performed by a large troupe of Star Fairies in sparkling blue, dancing in classic formations. The Fairy Godmother (Veronica Druchniak) was accompanied by the Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter fairies, who each performed a sprightly solo.
As the Spring Fairy, Elizabeth Dragoni (who will portray Cinderella on Sundays throughout the run) was sparkling and remarkably light, even in her jumps. Her hands and face were amazing. Katie Farwell as the Winter Fairy was regal and lifted, with long, beautiful balances.
Principal dancer Janet Davis was a pure delight in the title role. She has a glowing stage presence and her lovely, elfin face projects every nuance of the story.
The choreography nicely portrays that Cinderella is not only beautiful on the outside; when the Fairy Godmother first appears, cloaked and hunched as a needy old woman, Cinderella gives her the bread that she was saving for herself in her own hunger.
Davis’ mime was both graceful and effective. One of the most striking examples came after her duet with Prince Charming (Davis’ husband and fellow principal, Glenn Davis), when Cinderella remembers that her magical night will soon end. As Davis’ face changed and she touched her gown and tiara, immediately a little girl in the audience whispered, “She’s sad again.”
Glenn Davis, too, blended mime and dance wonderfully. From his magnetic first entrance at the ball, he was absorbed and absorbing – subtly funny as he warded off all the “eligible princesses” and convincingly enraptured as he danced with Cinderella. As always, the couple danced together with fluidity and precision.
Frederick Bernier’s lighting effects were almost their own character. A fire flickered in Cinderella’s fireplace. A shadowy forest was projected behind Prince Charming and the Jester as they journeyed to foreign lands in search of the girl who would fit the glass slipper. The stage went darker as Cinderella appeared on the staircase behind the ballroom, projecting warmth in her glittering golden gown (by costumer Gail Csoboth), and she seemed to bring light back to the ball as she entered.
Along with the fairy tale beauty, this production includes the broad humor traditional to “Cinderella.”
Rebecca Galli and Diane Saito were awkward and brash Stepsisters, and Christine Marshall sly and pushy as the Stepmother. The comedy team also included the delicious Ron Trell as the Dancing Master, Frederick Bernier as the Violinist and James Herrera as the Jester.
“Cinderella” continues with 10 more matinee and evening performances for the next two weekends, at the Maine State Ballet Theater in Falmouth. It is beautifully performed and staged, with appeal for all ages and levels of ballet literacy.
Jennifer Brewer is a freelance writer who lives in Saco.