Dance review: PBT's 'Cinderella' a bit sugary, but dancers have skills

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Even as it was celebrating 30 years and its deeply valuable, continuing relationship with Dr. Freddie Fu and UPMC Center for Sports Medicine this weekend, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre was ending its season at the Benedum Center with Septime Webre's cotton candy version of "Cinderella."

Yes, sweet it was, made even more so with references to a pastiche of other fairy tales, a one-size-fits-all approach. Given the beloved story's mostly European roots, where castles are surrounded by leafy green forests, it was hard to fathom James Kronzer's all-white scenery, especially the multitude of leafless birch-like trees that created their own looming arbor throughout the ballet, even the castle ("The Sleeping Beauty"?).

The closest, though, would be "Red Riding Hood," where a wolf stalked that storybook heroine, or Hansel and Gretel, who were repeatedly left in a scary forest to fend for themselves.

This "Cinderella" also was filled with plenty of roles for children, a la "The Nutcracker," but off-season. So there were attentive butterflies and wiggling bumblebees, so familiar, and a terrific little violinist, Chloe Olson, who had done her homework, using proper position and bowing.

This "Cinderella" also had a lovely grown-up pas de deux, here called Putti (cherubs) and performed with a mature aplomb by Tara DeSanto and Gabriel Gavrin-Savits.

On the whole, Mr. Webre's production played it safe, technically and artistically, which left plenty of room for interpretation among the dancers, although some of Judanna Lynn's costumes hid their physical assets. So there were adult male dragonflies with hoods and cutaway coats, voluminous chiffon fairy costumes and ill-fitting horsehair wigs in the ballroom scene -- which begged the question as to why Cinderella (Christine Schwaner) and her Prince (Nurlan Abougaliev), who retained their natural hair styling and coloring, did not do the same.

Still that scene remained the most compelling, filled with swirling waltz patterns, kept so alive by Charles Barker and the orchestra. And the Clock Scene, with a collection of timepieces dropping into view, had a wonderful sense of drama.

The dancers themselves built upon the 2009 production seen here and were decidedly more adventurous in their individual performances. The petite Ms. Schwaner was appealing, totally good-hearted and with enough spunk to take on her 6-foot-3 -- or thereabouts -- stepsisters (Robert Moore and Alejandro Diaz). Although lthough the choreography did not afford her much time to establish a real relationship with Mr. Abougaliev, they made an attractive couple.

Although her steps were mostly atmospheric bourrees, Julia Erickson was striking as the Fairy Godmother. Among her attendants were a marvelous group of seasonal fairies -- Eva Trapp (Summer), Elysa Hotchkiss (Fall), Caitlin Peabody (Winter) and especially Amanda Cochrane (Spring), who took full advantage of the quickly blossoming footwork.

Jester Yoshiaki Nakano literally had a ball at the ball. Although he was still lanky in his approach, he latched onto a burgeoning sense of humor, while executing lighthearted and lightfooted jumps.

It was good to see the dancers reaching beyond the roles. But the stepsisters, coming in at 6-foot-3 with muscle, could go even further. Mr. Diaz, usually so genteel, looked slightly demented, yet almost attractive as bubbled through his role and Mr. Moore, the consummate actor (who could forget his primal Stanley in "Streetcar Named Desire"?), was actually lyrical and lovely. Their duet with the oranges was a marvel of great timing. And they managed to look remarkably svelte whether getting a dancing lesson, being fitted for their ball gowns or tripping through a doorway.

theater

Former Post-Gazette critic Jane Vranish can be reached at jvranish1@comcast.net. She also blogs on www.pittsburghcrosscurrents.net.


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