Imagine sitting in the Auditorium Theatre (50 E. Congress Pkwy.) with more than 2,000 other people. All of you are silently watching ballerinas flounce around onstage with petite, almost soundless movements. After several minutes of silence, the audience members erupt in laughter.
It’s not common to find a ballet funny, but Cinderella strikes the balance between longing, desperate love and humor. Better yet, the ballerinas strike this balance with simply their movements — a theatricality that even patrons in the high balcony could easily see.
If you had a childhood, then you know the story: Cinderella (Victoria Jaiani) wants to go to the ball, but her evil stepsisters won’t let her leave the house, forcing her to do chores and live in misery. While Jaiani obviously performed gracefully and beautifully, the stepsisters stood out the most among all the dancers. David Gombert and Rory Hohenstein play the stepsisters — that’s right, two males danced as the step “sisters.” Their clunky movements and wide frames were perfect for embodying the clumsy, rude sisters.
With a 79-member cast, the company’s dancing kept the performance lively, but the real magic came with the set and special effects. The opening scene is set in Cinderella’s estate. While Cinderella remains in a corner, cleaning, the stepsisters perform a few numbers, mostly funny dances in which they fight with one another and make fun of Cinderella. Other than one wooden table in the middle of the stage, the center area is kept relatively bare. Stage left has a fireplace and stage right holds a quaint staircase that leads backstage. Although this first set is elegant and has a perfect amount of space for dancing, Cinderella’s transformation scene peeked the audience’s interest as The Fairy Godmother (April Daly) uses the help of the four seasons and her magical powers to turn the night around.
Unlike most versions of the classic fairytale, Joffrey’s ballet has four additional characters who help the fairy godmother, each embodying a different season. This added element not only provided a chance for more elegant performances from a variety of dancers, it also gave the set designers a chance to have some fun.
Each seasonal dancer had her own set, beginning with The Fairy Spring (Anastacia Holden). Holden’s pale green dress matched the curtain behind her that showed leafy trees. As Holden wrapped up her light and playful dance, the screen behind her arose and revealed a new season.
Of course, Daly also had the light, magical touches that any Fairy Godmother should have. Daly performed as the Black Swan in last year’s Swan Lake and casting her as The Fairy Godmother for Cinderella was a perfect fit. She brought back to the stage her graceful presence that was embodied through each jump and spin.
The majestic ballroom scene also didn’t disappoint with the set sporting a grand staircase and large clock that rang out at midnight. The Prince’s Friends performed a segment that involved several rapid jumps, which were incredibly impressive. Using male ballerinos in this scene allowed the company to showcase more powerful dance moves that weren’t as present during the more graceful numbers.
The main downfall with Joffrey’s Cinderella is the chemistry between Jaiani and Dylan Gutierrez (who plays The Prince). Their dancing was remarkable, but a spark was missing. It’s difficult to detect such an intense emotion, nonetheless portray it onstage, but the two leads didn’t find that sweet spot. Individually, their dancing was that of any professional ballerina, but together there were no feelings of desperation or uncontrollable love.
Despite the lack of a complete connection between the main characters, Cinderella exceeded expectations with magnificent set designs and performances from a variety of characters, which turned out better than if the focus were completely on Cinderella.
There was laughter and there was awe. There was a love connection that wasn’t portrayed as well as it could have been, but most importantly, there was impeccable dancing that had the audience giving a standing ovation for all the performers.
Cinderella runs through May 22 at the Auditorium Theatre (50 E. Congress Pkwy.). Tickets are $32 – $88 and can be purchased at joffrey.org.