‘Cinderella’ at American Ballet Theatre at The Kennedy Center

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Just as the cherry blossoms come out, pure romance is in the air with Cinderella at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The American Ballet Theatre (ABT) is performing this three-act ballet through Sunday in The Opera House. This romantic fairy tale is directed by Wendy Ellis Somes and Malin Thoors.

Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.
Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

Popular local dancer Julie Kent, originally from Bethesda, MD., will dance the role of Cinderella at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow evening, March 28th.  She trained with Hortensia Fonseca at the Academy of the Maryland Youth Ballet. Kent is retiring from ABT in June. She has been with the company since 1986.

In Thursday night’s performance, another local dancer, Melanie Hamrick, danced the role of the Fairy Winter in this lovely ballet with choreography by Frederick Ashton and music by Sergei Prokofiev. Hamrick was born in Williamsburg, VA, and trained at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, D.C.

James Whiteside played the prince Thursday to Gillian Murphy’s Cinderella, and the two make a romantic couple. He is tall and has virtuosic grace, while she is one of those eminently accessible dancers who are so much fun to watch that it makes you feel like dancing yourself. Indeed, many young ladies were twirling away in the lobby during the two intermissions.

Sets and costumes by David Walker featured a 30-foot fireplace with orange flames and a lovely gray dress with a black panel for Cinderella that made her look like she had just stepped out of the ashes. Tattered at the bottom, it floats beautifully as she dances enchantingly with a twig broom after the evil stepsisters leave for the ball.

In a classic silver and white tutu for the dances in the grand ballroom, complete with ten huge candelabras (lighting design by Brad Fields), she executed what seemed like more than 30 twirls around the huge Opera House stage and nailed her final pose in complete stillness, to the delight of everyone in the theater, which seats 2,200.

The scene stealers of this lovely classical ballet were Cinderella’s Step-Sisters, played in the traditional fashion by two male dancers (Ashton himself played the shy one in 1948). With Craig Saltstein as the more imperious of the two, and Roman Zhurbin as the clumsier sister, their antics are peppered throughout the show and add some fun spice.

It is hilarious when they return from the ball and remove their ridiculous frocks to reveal bloomers and a springy hoop skirt for Zhurbin. But suddenly, the Prince arrives to find whoever has left her slipper at the castle, and they have to get dressed really fast. The Thursday audience laughed at their pantomime comedy when they (spoiler alert . . . ) put on each other’s frocks by mistake.

This production is notable for the pure athleticism of the dancers. They are stronger than their historic counterparts because they cross-train devotedly so they can perform amazing feats. For example, when the jester, Aaron Scott, first took the stage, he leaped down three wide stairs in a mid-air split eight feet off of the ground and landed in a somersault. It was perfect, and theatergoers were still talking about it as they walked out of the Hall of States building into a chilly spring rainstorm.

Others who were fun to watch Thursday night included the Dancing Master (Sterling Baca), the Fairy Godmother (Veronika Part), and the Fairies Spring (Skylar Brandt), Summer (Christine Shevchenko), and Autumn (Misty Copeland).

Prokofiev’s score has been described as “lush, lunar, anxious and silvery” (Stagebill, June 1995). It was conducted by Charles Barker and played by The Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra.

Ashton (1904-1988) was a British choreographer who grew up in South America. His ultra-theatrical Cinderella premiered on December 23, 1948, by Sadler’s Wells (now the Royal) Ballet at the Royal Opera House in London with Moira Shearer as Cinderella and Michael Somes as The Prince.

This rendition of the ballet will travel next to the Metropolitan Opera House in New York this June as ABT celebrates its 75th anniversary.  The company premiered the show there in June 2014 with Hee Seo as Cinderella and Whiteside as the Prince. Seo will perform the lead role at the Kennedy Center tonight (Friday, March 27th).

It is the fourth time the company has performed this Russian ballet originally choreographed by Konstantin Sergeyev. Mikhail Baryshnikov’s production was the first for ABT; it premiered at The Kennedy Center in 1983.

Incidentally, a performance of Cinderella by the Russian National Ballet Theatre will take place tonight  in Manassas, VA., and April 18th in Fairfax City under the auspices of the George Mason University Center for the Arts. And if that’s not enough fairy tale goodness, they will do Sleeping Beauty April 19th, while ABT has its own gorgeous production of Sleeping Beauty coming up at the end of May in New York!

Approximately 2 hours, including two 20-minute intermissions.

Cinderella continues through March 29 , 2015 at the in The Kennedy Center’s Opera House–2700 F Street N.W., in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (800) 444-1324, or (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.

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