Company XIV has garnered a reputation for taking traditional ballet and fairy tale classics and reinterpreting these storybook and ballet warhorses through their own special lens. Their “Nutcracker Rouge” takes place in a burlesque hall with the Sugarplum Fairy in a G-string and pasties. “Snow White” has dwarf puppets, opera singers as clairvoyant mirrors, as well as other nontraditional elements. (Innovative and beautifully rendered, it was a unique way of interpreting “Snow White.”)
In the history of Cinderella ballets, the classic story has been re-interpreted from a wide range of perspectiveS, themes and choreographic points of view. There is the Nureyev/Paris Opera Ballet version of Cinderella getting a movie screen test in 1930s Hollywood. The Lyons Ballet’s Cendrillion version revisited the classic as poupee dolls. And who can forget Matthew Bourne’s version with Cinderella set during World War II.
With so many nontraditional, brilliant versions of “Cinderella,” it is a real accomplishment and triumph for Company XIV’s version to have its own innovative structure around “Cinderella” among the pantheon of nontraditional attempts at this ballet classic. In Company XIV’s version, surprisingly, Cinderella is not the protagonist. In fact, there’s a couple of main characters with the Stepmother front and center. Add in A Prince that is an expert acrobat and trapeze artist and operatic, acrobatically inclined Stepsisters and you have a Cinderella production that definitely breaks the mold.
Though these characters reinterpretations and Company XIV’s unique melange of dance styles always creates interesting theatre, at times, there were too many disparate elements in this production. Pointe work, burlesque, opera singers, acrobats, and a few baroque dance elements are difficult to combine into a seamless artistic expression. And this time around, Company XIV struggled, well slightly.
Artistic director Austin McCormick over the years has become more adept at combining disparate dance and theatrical elements. The penultimate triumph of McCormick’s marriage of dissimilar and unequally yoked bedfellows was Company XIV’s “Le Serpent Rouge.” However, the company’s “Cinderella,” at times, missed the mark and was a bit ragged. Still, there were some shining moments.
Davon Rainey’s characterization of the evil Stepmother was one of those shining moments. In spite of being an en travesti role, Rainey was neither feminine or Rupaulesque. (Imagine a male Supermodel in five-inch heels.) Rainey was mostly glamorously self-absorbed, and this was good thing. McCormick’s pointe work for his dancers as horses was also brilliant. The choreography for the Stepsister’s dancing instructors was bold, frenetic, innovative, and well performed. The trapeze/acrobat elements were also phenomenal. The musical numbers and music choices were superb, as always. And lastly, Zane Pihlstrom’s costumes, or lack of thereof, were not only titillating, but also helped move the plot along.
The production’s sticky moments were evident in the plot, which would have been hard to follow if you didn’t already know the story. And there was absent McCormick’s genius Baroque parterre and petite allegro choreography. (Something the company has become expert at executing.)
Overall, this is a worthwhile production and with some tweaking and editing Company XIV’s “Cinderella” will be a powerful addition to the company repertoire. Now maybe, Company XIV should tackle “Swan Lake,” —hint, hint.
—William S. Gooch