Royal Winnipeg Ballet

October 20, 2004

Royal Winnipeg Ballet
Manitoba Centennial Concert Hall

Winnipeg, Canada

October 20–24, 2004

Reviewed by Michael Crabb



In a dance market oversaturated with Prokofiev-driven Cinderellas, it was astute of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet to commission a distinctive version. Choreographer Val Caniparoli works to Richard Rodgers song music, refashioning the fairy tale as an almost contemporary fable that allows him to blend ballet with a variety of popular jazz dances of the era, particularly in the ball scene. Winnipeg jazz legend Ron Paley’s piano-and-big-band arrangement, however, sometimes robs Rodgers’ romanticism of its full emotional impact.

In the opening of Sheryl Flatow’s ingenious libretto, the lonely Nancy sits in front of a huge TV with her faithful poodle (a major dancing role akin to the jester in many traditional productions, vividly rendered by Darren Anderson). Nancy is excited—and the era is set—when she sees a promo for the 1957 broadcast of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. (In a clever book-ending strategy, the ballet ends with the happy couple settling in cozily to watch it.) Nancy’s widower father, a rich airline captain, returns with a new wife and spoiled stepdaughters. Father is soon killed off in an accident, leaving Nancy at the mercy of her evil stepmother, danced with delicious venom by Tara Birtwhistle. Nancy meets a handsome young playboy, Bob (Giuseppe de Ruggiero, dancing up a virile storm), taking class at an Arthur Murray studio—cue big, Broadway-style ensemble dances. When he drops a shoe, the smitten Nancy promptly snatches it up as an identity check for later use.

Such clever twists make Caniparoli’s ballet smartly amusing and ironical, but they also distance it from the genuine dreams-come-true romance that gives most Cinderella ballets soul. Perhaps Caniparoli intends to underline the distinction by calling his version A Cinderella Story. He also paints the characters two-dimensionally, giving the impression that he wants us to laugh at them rather than with them. Only late in the action, when he moves in for the emotional kill in his best pas de deux mode, with Nancy melting ecstatically into Bob’s arms, does Caniparoli finally warm our hearts.

Sandra Woodall’s stylish costumes evoke 1950s haute couture while her adaptable unit set and various flown elements give this excellently danced production an opulent look.

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