March 15, 2014
“C. to C. (Close to Chuck) Reborn” “Resonance” “Bella Figura”
Boston Opera House
by Dale Brauner
copyright 2014 by Dale Brauner
This spring, Sir Frederick Ashton proffered a sparkling glass slipper to Boston Ballet in the shape of “Cinderella” and it fit perfectly. “Cinderella,” set to music by Sergei Prokofiev, was Ashton’s first original full-length ballet, debuting at the Sadler’s Wells Ballet in 1948. Former Royal Ballet dancer Wendy Ellis Somes directed and supervised this production, which featured David Walker’s beautiful and simple costumes and sets (borrowed from The Joffrey Ballet).
The ballet follows the fairy tale pretty clearly. Cinderella’s mother is dead and her father has remarried a woman with two silly and petty daughters. We don’t see the stepmother in this version but the pair of stepsisters take care of the henpecking of Cinderella’s father and bullying of Cinderella.
Misa Kurangaga might have studied at the School of American Ballet but she’s taken to the Ashton style. Kuranaga, who was a successful Lise in Ashton’s “La Fille mal gardée,” sparkled as Cinderella. She showed off strong epaulement, lyric expression and clarity in the legs. Kurangaga was sweet and alert in Act I, fully engaged, even when just sitting by the fire watching her stepsisters’ antics. In Act II, her face showed both shyness and expectation at being at the ball. By the third act, she was entrancing.
“Cinderella” is my desert island Ashton because it contains many of the great styles of his other works. The stepsisters recall his music hall pieces like “Façade.” The choreography for The Stars and courtiers evokes the crystalline corps de ballet passages in “Scenes de Ballet.” And the lyric beauty of the pas de deux between Cinderella and the Prince is similar to duets seen in “Symphonic Variations” and “Daphnis and Chloe.”
“Cinderella” can also be seen as Ashton’s attempt to create his own “Sleeping Beauty,” a ballet he loved. There are soft echoes of “The Sleeping Beauty” in Ashton’s choreography for the Fairy Godmother, the seasons and Cinderella’s Act II solo. And as in “Sleeping Beauty” where Carabosse is forgiven and invited to Aurora’s wedding, so are the evil stepsisters forgiven by Cinderella and attend the final dances with the Prince.
The revelation that the beggar woman Cinderella helped earlier in the ballet turns out to be her Fairy Godmother begins a set of dances that builds upon its own choreography much the same way the fairies of “The Sleeping Beauty” do, particularly in the way each season uses her often outstretched arms.
Petra Conti, who joined the company from the La Scala Ballet Company at the start of the season, performed the Fairy Godmother with suitable authority and style. As did Ji Young Chae as the Fairy Spring, Anais Chalendard as the Fairy Summer, Dalay Parrondo as the Fairy Autumn and Dusty Button as the Fairy Winter.
Jeffrey Ciro (The Prince) and Avetik Karapetyan (the Jester) could have switched roles so similar in type are the two dancers. Ciro showed off soft landings and stretched limbs while he seemingly concentrated on being princely. He loosened up enough in the third act to play off the stepsisters. And he continuously proved a strong partner for Kuranaga.
Karapetyan had some incredibly high and wide split jumps in his opening solo to start Act II. He also proved resourceful when the slipper fell into the orchestra pit. He managed to retrieve it from one of the musicians while staying in character.
It’s a shame the new season has been announced without featuring any Ashton ballets. These dancers should be able to build on this astounding performance.
It’s even more amazing that the company was rehearsing “Cinderella” while performing the contemporary program called “Close to Chuck.” This slate of dances showed off some of the company’s best assets while leaving their technique less exposed than the classical “La Bayadère” from earlier in the season did.
Boston Ballet has dancers with strong stage presence and vibrant elasticity. A program long on atmosphere and short on dance substance allows them to fill in the space with their personalities. In this way, Kathleen Breen Combes, Lia Cirio, Whitney Jensen and Jeffrey Cirio were shown off to good effect in Jorma Elo’s “C. to C. (Close to Chuck) Reborn.” Elo might be Boston Ballet’s resident choreographer but he created “C. to C.” for American Ballet Theatre seven years ago to Philip Glass’ “A Musical Portrait of Chuck Close,” played by pianist Bruce Levingston.
The backdrop was of one of Chuck Close’s self-portraits. The costumes had the dancers in black and occasionally donning skirts made out of what looked like an oilcloth. When the skirt showed off the inside, it was a portion of Close’s painting. Interesting to look at but squeaky to dance in. The chorography was made up of Elo’s usually hard driving, turned in dances.
“Resonance” is a commissioned ballet to piano music of Franz Liszt (played by Alex Foaksman and Freda Locker) with choreography by former POB étoile Jose Martinez. This was an odd ballet. Its harsh florescent lighting connected it with the Elo piece and the way it started and ended with the dancers moving in silence was similar to the Jiri Kylian work that concluded the program. It also had some odd tricks up its sleeve, like having an onstage pianist and a pit pianist. The dancers also ended up dancing in the pit – for some unfathomable reason. The sets were downright ugly. They looked like tall beige or gray office cubicle walls that moved around without purpose. Add the lighting and the effect was of a ballet performed in the changing rooms of a JC Penny.
The costumes were also a mystery. The women either wore long empire dresses or leotards. The men were also either in simple tights and blouse or with a waistcoat. All were in dark lavender. The cast continuously toggled back and forth between the two outfits with no narrative.
Yet despite all of this nonsense, the choreography was of a simple pretty kind, similar to some of Jerome Robbins’ pure dance works. This piece featured two couples, Rie Ichikawa and Jeffrey Cirio in the dark mysterious roles and Whitney Jensen and Bradley Schlagheck in the brightly lyric parts. Ichikawa’s emoting hinted at some story that never emerged.
Her intensity found a better vessel in Kylian’s “Bella Figura” a piece created in 1995 on his own dancers. Boston Ballet became the first American company to perform it in April, 2011. Ichikawa played the living personification of the female blowup doll hanging over the stage at the beginning of the dance. Yury Yanowsky played the man’s part. These two, wearing flesh-toned spandex at first, were the tortured ones among the larger group. Most of the dance is a series of awkward duets with the women contorting and being carried about. Lots of jerky movement. Later, two women, then the whole cast is topless while wearing long red skirts. It is all inexplicable and pointless but the dancers seem to like it. So did the audience.