Monday, March 31, 2008

Jack Neal's Review of A.V.A. Ballet Theatre's Cinderella

Mar 30, 2008 - The A.V.A. Ballet Theatre and the Reno Philharmonic's lovely "Cinderella" /
By Jack Neal

In fairytales, beauty overcomes ugliness every time. Thus the winning story of “Cinderella,” enchants every time. So it was this past weekend (3/29 & 30/2008) in Reno, when the A.V.A. Ballet Theatre and the Reno Philharmonic collaborated on a “Cinderella” that overcame the odds in a gambling town and won. Bless ballet companies in the provinces and the “stay hungry” dance promoters and choreographers who do what they do for the sheer love of dance. The A.V.A. Ballet Theatre, its founder and choreographer Alexander Van Alstyne and co-director Miriam Allen, fit into that reverential category. By the gifts of will power and talent, Van Alstyne and Allen crafted a lovely “Cinderella” that looked as sumptuous as Prokofiev’s exquisite score sounded. So what if the principal dancers were borrowed (hired) from Salt Lake City’s Ballet West? With few exceptions, major league ball players never play in their hometowns either. Lots of fine dancers in “Cinderella” are from Reno, including many featured dancers and a corps de ballet that should be the envy of some of America’s leading dance companies. Van Alstyne’s re-telling of the “Cinderella” story was traditional and never dabbled into the Freudian issues of what happened to Cinderella’s mother or why her wimp of a father married a mean-spirited woman with two frumpy daughters? Nor does it pull off a CSI as to why dad stands by while three old bags mistreat his lovely girl. No calls to social services for this production. With the aid (considerable, as it turns out) of the Fairy Godmother Cinderella befriends, when her Fairy Godmother to be appears to be anything but with-it and magical, Cinderella is left to her own devices. Kate Crews is a Cinderella of any prince’s dreams. It’s a gorgeous role for a ballerina and Crews makes the most of it. Lovely scenes as the drab waif in the kitchen with sensitive acting and a sense of humor contrasted with radiant scenes at the ball give a young dancer a wonderful palette of nuances from which to work. Crews pulls off the part with elegance and sensitivity. And - she can dance as well as act. The eligible men in Cinderella’s life, the Prince and the Jester, were young and dashing. The rapport between Crews’s Cinderella and her Prince and husband-to-be, as danced by Aaron Orlowski, was impressive. A chemistry ignited that made their moments of enraptured dance believable and magnetic – just what any “Cinderella” production needs. Impressive, too, both have a technical bravura that dazzles. Steven Davis was the Jester so winningly attractive (he also dances well) he was forced to fight off the amorous flirtations of Cinderella’s less than attractive stepsisters. As Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, Josey Silva is a shining presence and elegant dancer. The underlying sense of nature’s order as portrayed by the Spring Fairy (Maegen Price-Lundstrom), Summer Fairy (Danielle Pearson), Fall Fairy (Nicole Shutt), and Winter Fairy (Eve Allen) was well served with expressive, skilled performances by each dancer. Colton Harrah deserves recognition for his assured take on the frustrations of instructing the stepsisters, each having two left feet, in the art of dance. It’s tradition to have men in drag play (dance, if that’s what it’s called) the stepsisters. Exaggeration does not make the heart grow fonder. It’s time to add a touch of pathos to these maligned ladies everyone loves to hate and make them an integral part of the “Cinderella” saga, rather than tiresome sideshow caricatures. Carol Burnett knows how to give depth to comedy, making it even funnier. It’s time to scrap these old biddies for something more entertaining than high-school slapstick. To be fair to Bruce Lindstrom and William Pizzuto who were cast as the ugly stepsisters, the opening-night audience loved them. For my money, for great casting, a great stepsister and fabulous box office, bring on Ms. Burnett. Prokofiev’s superb score was given a superlative interpretation by members of the Reno Philharmonic and conductor Barry Jekowsky. Live music and live dance are natural co-conspirators for exceptional ballet. No real performance of dance is complete without live music. Bravo for paying for the best. Bravo also for the attractive scenic designs executed by Soggy Dog, Periann Scott’s radiant lighting, and the elegant Van Alstyne costumes executed splendidly by Stephanie LeGoy. What a handsome, beautifully danced and paced presentation. The A.V.A. Ballet Theatre and the Reno Philharmonic’s “Cinderella” was presented at the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts, 100 South Virginia Street, Reno, Nevada, Saturday, March 29, 2008, at 8 p.m. (the performance reviewed), and Sunday, March 30 (2008) at 2 p.m. For future A.V.A. Ballet Theatre events call 775-762-5165. For future Reno Philharmonic events call 775-323-6393.