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Dance review: Joffrey's 'Cinderella' at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

January 29, 2010 | 12:01 pm
Cinderella

Back in 1948, before he was acknowledged as one of  the century's greatest dance-makers, Frederick Ashton left nothing to chance when choreographing “Cinderella,” his first full-length work for the British company now known as the Royal Ballet.

He began with a beloved fairy tale like the one that inspired the 19th century Russian classic “The Sleeping Beauty,” then added comic elements from traditional British Christmas shows (a.k.a. pantomimes) with their outrageous female characters played by men in drag. Next, challenging the technical prowess of his company,  Ashton piled on so much intricate, dazzling bravura for everyone from subsidiary women to principals that the result emerged brilliantly, even defiantly neoclassic.

Cinderllagallery The Joffrey Ballet faced these challenges with impressive energy and style Thursday in the first of five performances of ”Cinderella” (through Sunday afternoon) at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. And the company's achievement proved even more remarkable because it conspicuously lacked a key element that Ashton counted on in his original production: a reigning international ballerina in the title role and ballet celebrities (including Ashton himself) as the ugly stepsisters.

So values shifted. “Cinderella” became less of a star vehicle, and the stepsisters, in particular, grew less endearing in their endless attempts to be farcically appalling. But the pattern of the ballet emerged in high relief, frequently at odds with the flow of Sergei Prokofiev's dark, sardonic score but often startlingly imaginative in movement invention.

 The manic storytelling passages have never meshed with the courtly formal dances, but in the latter the density of  the step-combinations looked surprisingly futuristic, owing nothing to Imperial Russian tradition except the elegant poses (usually very brief) at points of transition or termination.

The ability to negotiate this minefield of steps with the utmost clarity made Victoria Jaiani's Cinderella a nonstop pleasure on Thursday. The many changes of feeling and attack in the solo after the ball found her especially memorable. Only in the final tests of balance just before the end of the ballet did any strain show, but Jaiani's radiance sustained her even here.

SistersMiguel Angel Blanco looked picture perfect as the Prince but continually worked his way through the steps and partnering as if more worried about avoiding mistakes than finding the girl of his dreams. April Daly looked like a trainee Cinderella in her stylish performance of the Fairy Godmother. And Derrick Agnoletti delivered the nonstop virtuosity assigned the Jester with great assurance — most of the time.

Usually overselling the slapstick as the stepsisters, Michael Smith (the haughty one) and David Gombert (the downtrodden one) were seen at their best when partnered by dancers impersonating Napoleon (Brian Gephart) and Wellington (Fabrice Calmels). Patrick Simoniello mimed sympathetically as Cinderella's father.

Some of Prokofiev's cruelly exposed brass passages made the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra sound dangerously squally on Thursday, but conductor Scott Speck usually enforced a higher level of suavity than local audiences are used to hearing in ballet accompaniments. David Walker designed the array of sepia settings.

When Robert Joffrey was alive, he spoke of how his company's success in the matched corps passages of John Cranko's “Romeo and Juliet”  (also to music by Prokofiev)  represented evidence of  the company's evolution: a major step in its growth. On Thursday, you could argue that the company's success in the daunting Seasons divertissement at the end of Act 1 represented a new advance: evidence of the leadership of  Ashley C. Wheater, the Joffrey's artistic director since 2007.

The solos here went to Daly, Allison Walsh, Christine Rocas, Yumelia Garcia and Valerie Robin, but it was their interplay with a 12-member woman's corps that showcased at maximum excitement the standards of dancing, staging and coaching of a company that is clearly building on the past as splendidly as Ashton did.

— Lewis Segal

The Joffrey Ballet dances 'Cinderella,” with changes of casting, 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Dorothy Chandler Pavilion 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown Los Angeles. $30 to $120.  www.musiccenter.org or  (800) 982-2787.  Running time: 2 hours, 1 minute, with intermission.

Related story:

Joffrey Ballet to perform 'Cinderella' in L.A.

Photos: Victoria Jaiani as Cinderella in the ballroom scene and Michael Smith and David Gombert as the stepsisers
. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

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