Superb storytelling and sharply etched characterizations have long been specialties of the Joffrey Ballet. It’s almost as if these gifts are transmitted from one generation of its dancers to another, as part of the company’s DNA, and without question they help forge a crucial bond with the audience.
JOFFREY BALLET IN ‘CINDERELLA’ Highly recommended When: May 11 – 22 Where: Auditorium Theater, 50 E. Congress Tickets: $32 – $170 Info: http://www.ticketmaster.com Run time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, with one intermission
The latest example of the full enchantment that comes with the Joffrey’s theatrical talents is now on stage at the Auditorium Theatre, where the company has revived “Cinderella,” the grand-scale fairy tale ballet that brings together the strengths of many master storytellers: English choreographer, Sir Frederick Ashton, who created the work in 1948 for the Sadler’s Wells Ballet (now the Royal Ballet); Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev, who wrote the score in the early 1940s for the original Bolshoi Ballet production; and of course the foundational folk tale transformed into a fairy tale thanks to both Charles Perrault, a 17th century Frenchman, and those 19th century Germans, the Brothers Grimm.
This is a ravishing production, filled with sparkling dancing and eye-popping design and special effects. Prokofiev’s score (played expertly by the Chicago Philharmonic, under the direction of Scott Speck) is filled with everything from lovely waltzes and courtly dances to zesty sequences that Ashton used for hilarious comic riffs in the English panto tradition. And if you look closely you will see that along with the purely classical movement that fills this ballet, Ashton was able to put some innovative modern twists on the technique, challenging the dancers in the most intriguing ways.
The dancing at Wednesday’s opening night performance at the Auditorium Theatre was sublime. (Many alternating casts will be showcased throughout the ballet’s two-week run.) Victoria Jaiani brings an aristocratic bearing and beauty to the role of Cinderella that easily captures the sense that this is a girl who has been robbed of her rightful inheritance, but will regain it- and do so with the utmost grace and charm. Jaiani’s pointe work is magnificent— from her descent down a staircase as she enters the royal ballroom, to an exquisite sequence suggesting the elation that comes with romance, in which she makes repeated circles — spinning like a top and then whipping off a series of the most feathery leaps. Ideally partnered by her tall, elegantly proportioned prince (Dylan Gutierrez, who makes you wish the stage were even bigger than it is), Jaiani also expertly shifts from dream-filled girl who has been usurped by her two grotesque step-sisters and the impotence of a weak father, to the woman who finally lives out her dream without malice.
April Daly also brings a feathery, easily beguiling enchantment to the role of the Fairy Godmother, creating a sense of magic out of thin air, and displaying her pristine pointe work and elegant line with utter ease.
The step-sisters are played with delicious zaniness by Rory Hohenstein and David Gombert and they are so good in these roles that you sometimes forget they are in drag. From the moment you first catch them stitching frocks for the ball (tearing the thread with their teeth, and spitting it out), Ashton’s inspired comic touches, combined with the men’s expert footwork and comic flair, are irresistible.
For pure bravura fireworks there is Derrick Agnoletti as the court Jester. A compact dancer with a true Bolshoi athleticism, Agnoletti has been with the Joffrey for years and seems to jump higher (his mid-air splits are absolutely breathtaking), and spin faster with every season.
The initial “enchantment” scene includes variations for four women, each representing a season, and there was winning dancing here, too. Anastacia Holden, a sublime technician whose attack, speed and confidence never falter, was bursting with energy as Fairy Spring. Anais Bueno brought a lovely lyricism to Summer, with Nicole Ciapponi a sharp-edged Fall and Jeraldine Mendoza an ideally chilly, angular Winter.
Lucas Segovia brought a perfect sense of comic despair to the Dancing Master who must coach the two klutzy step-sisters. And the comedy continues as the sisters compete bitterly for two military men at the ball — Napoleon (Fernando Duarte, costumed with a priceless little padded paunch), and the taller and more handsome Wellington (Artur Babjanyan) — both played ideally.
Impeccably directed, supervised and staged by Wendy Somes (a Royal Ballet alum and a keeper of the Ashton flame), this “Cinderella” comes with the ravishing sets and costume designs of the late David Walker, with everything from a glittering coach to a ballroom of grand deep perspective. Fireworks and golden starlight complete the magic in what is a fairy tale production on every count.