Cinderella choreographed by James Kudelka. Presented by the National Ballet of Canada at the Hummingbird Centre (1 Front East). Runs to May 16, Thursday-Saturday 7:30 pm, matinees Thursday, Saturday-Sunday 2 pm. $35-$121. 416-345-9595. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Until last weekend, I wasn't much of a fan of James Kudelka's story ballets like The Contract and The Firebird. He's stronger in abstract pieces like The Four Seasons (remounted later this week), where he doesn't have to bother with narrative. But somehow the overly familiar tale of Cinderella , complete with Prokofiev 's fragmented, often choppy score, has inspired the artistic director of the National Ballet to new heights. His production, which opened the National's spring season last Saturday, shows him at his imaginative and whimsical best. Yes, the guy has a sense of humour.
Kudelka respects the basic elements of the story but avoids the broad strokes and patronizing simplicity of some insufferable, earlier productions that seemed aimed squarely at the Toys R Us set.
Cinderella's no wimp with a broom, and her evil stepsisters aren't played - as they have been in the past - in drag. Thanks to designer David Boechler , the traditional cottage-castle look has been refreshed. His art deco-inspired designs and costumes actually enhance and showcase Prokofiev's Modernist harmonies.
Kudelka's beginning to think like a director - someone who looks at a work as a whole. Apart from a lack of momentum in the final scenes of the first act, there's an ease here that suggests the choreographer's having fun.
Need to remove characters from a ball scene? Get fairies to shoosh them out. Don't know what to do with a Cinderella left with one pointe shoe? Have her execute a bravura routine playing up that fact. Tired of that pumpkin motif? Surprise us by making it pop up in funny and occasionally frightening ways.
Not that Kudelka makes Cinderella and her prince the most psychologically complex characters. The ballet's two pas de deux can't be the rich, emotionally charged duets from Romeo And Juliet, but they do emphasize the pair's youth and exuberance. And look how Cinderella (danced winningly by Sonia Rodriguez ) doesn't even notice the prince ( Guillaume Côté , in an effortless turn) at first at the ball. You can't call her a gold-digger, a detail emphasized by the gentle, bucolic conclusion.
Jennifer Fournier and Rebekah Rimsay get well-earned laughs in their outrageous roles as the sisters, while Victoria Bertram steals scenes as the alcoholic stepmom. A fine showcase for the National's ensemble, this Cinderella is all dressed up and should be around for years.