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PNB’s Cinderella: What Kind of Magic Were You Expecting, Anyway?

Written by Rosie Gaynor
Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist Lesley Rausch
 as Cinderella and principal dancer Jeffrey Stanton
 as the Prince in Kent Stowell’s Cinderella.
Photo © Angela Sterling.
I have no doubt that for hundreds of little girls, last Sunday’s matinee performance of Kent Stowell’s Cinderella was magical. The ballet starts with an ethereal, behind-a-scrim foreshadowing of the fated couple and ends with Cinderella being spun in smooth, mesmerizing circles by her prince as glitter drifts down around them.
But PNB presented more magic than that…something a little less pink, a little less Disney, a little more interesting.

Something for the ear: PNB’s orchestra (led by Allan Dameron) handled Prokofiev’s moody score well; this is the best I’ve heard them play in the past 10+ years. Their shimmering opening strains perfectly established a dreamy, “once-upon-a-time” feeling. They were delicate with the “happily ever after” waves at the end. And in between? No bleeps or bleats; plenty of emotion.
Something for the spirit: Was there ever anything lighter than Rachel Foster’s quick, tidy Cinderella steps? Anything more buoyant than Benjamin Griffiths’ springing Jester jumps? Anything more sexily confident than Lucien Postlewaite’s Princely leaps? Sure. There are equally light, buoyant, “effortless” dancers around—here in Seattle and in the world at large. But that is not the point. The point is that the way wonderful dancers like these move creates more than just a visual effect. What a joy to watch! They make you feel their movement. This is a very personal thing. It’s as though you can feel what it would be like to dance like them—not the pulled muscles or bloody toes, but the thrill of so many disparate parts moving together, perfectly in tune with each other.
Something for the mind: Watching dancers in new roles can generate an epiphany; there’s a sort of “Now I’m really seeing you, seeing your gifts” effect that can happen. (In a way, isn’t that recognition of quality what the Cinderella story is all about? I imagine it must be so frustrating to dancers who know they’re Cinderellas… They have to wait for we shortsighted audience members/critics to suddenly recognize that fact when… What? What needs to happen? Sometimes it’s as simple as ditching the harsh red lipstick or the eye-scrunch of concentration that allows us to see their dancing. Sometimes it’s just forgetting to think about being perfect.)
Pacific Northwest Ballet corps de ballet dancer Kylee Kitchens as Fairy Godmother
and soloist Rachel Foster as Cinderella with PNB School students and
Company dancers in Kent Stowell’s CinderellaPhoto © Angela Sterling.

Take, for example, Foster, whom we have seen dance so thrillingly in numerous contemporary ballets and modern pieces. She shines in those pieces, always making sense of the oddest movements. She dances these works with an impressive, all-consuming fierceness and intensity. I don’t remember seeing her exhibit that level of passion in her classical work. I’ve always wondered if the more traditional grace was a chore to her. What would she look like in Kent Stowell’s Cinderella? I just couldn’t imagine. That’s why I went to the show, actually.
I’m so glad I went. Foster was beautiful. Each step carefully, beautifully danced. And so light! The musicality she finds in her contemporary and modern work was on display here. (It helps that Prokofiev’s score has an edge to it; it’s not saccharine sweet.) That musicality came out even in simple movements, like those in the beginning when she draws the beggar woman to the fireplace. It’s not a fabulous bit of choreography but she made it one. And while she might not have matched Postlewaite’s (perceived) openness and fuller range of emotion, she has broken out of her (perceived) inward focus to share a bit more with her partner and a lot more with the audience. Her look as the orchestra clanged twelve foreboding strikes of the clock literally gave me chills. It wasn’t just the compelling music, though, because those chills returned in the next scene when she held her “glass” slipper.
There were a few pumpkins in this fairy tale, of course. One was the music Stowell added to the score, much of which didn’t seem to fit well. And, as well as they were danced, I totally missed the point of the scenes that featured the Seasons and their beautifully garbed attendants. (I didn’t get the choreography either.) And why—in a lovely production that boasts an elegant, evocative front curtain, a fabulous hearth prop, and a backdrop showing a beautiful castle stretched Chenonceau-like across a river—why would you feel the need to throw in a tacky cloud backdrop at the end? It doesn’t work here, it doesn’t work in West Side Story Suite where they have a similar one. Oklahoma!? OK.
Before signing off: A shout-out to Martin Pakledinaz for his gorgeous costumes. And another to Amanda Clark, a corps dancer who handled two soloist roles ably, one with nobility and the other with pertness.