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The National Ballet's Cinderella: A divine pairing of music and dance

Guillaume Côté in a scene from Cinderella

James Kudelka's production of Cinderella is a masterpiece. The brilliant choreography matches Sergei Prokofiev's notoriously difficult score in perfect symmetry. Kudelka's innate musicality, inventive movement, deft character portraits and sly sense of humour make this production the finest Cinderella in the world, bar none.

As with all Kudelka's works, once an audience member has absorbed the big picture - which itself takes repeated viewings - one can begin to appreciate the individual details. That, too, may require repeated viewings because Kudelka's choreography, at its full flowering, is so richly layered.

For example, Kudelka gives the fairies - Blossom (Jillian Vanstone), Petal (Elena Lobsanova), Moss (Tina Pereira) and Twig (Chelsy Meiss) - demanding neoclassical vocabulary, which is why four of the company's finest classical ballerinas portray these roles. There is much more to discover in the complex movement of each solo, particularly the subtle differences of one from the other - dizzying turns coming from all directions, intricate off-balance footwork and rapid-fire gestural language.

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Kudelka's version of the ballet, which debuted in 2004, created two magnificent pas de deux for Cinderella (Sonia Rodriguez) and her Prince Charming (Guillaume Côté). One takes place at the ball when they first meet. The second occurs after they have found each other again. The great delight here is how Kudelka has portrayed through movement the tremulous rapture of first love in the former, and the deeper, more mature love of the latter. Those emotions are truly brought to life by the supremely gifted pairing of Rodriguez and Côté.

Prokofiev's Act 3 begins with Prince Charming's galloping tour around the world, shoe in hand, in search of his lost love. Most choreographers have dodged this section of the score either by using this music for some other plot device, or leaving it out altogether.

Not Kudelka. His remarkable choreography is one of the glories of this particular version. The central through-line is the prince and his four officers (Brett van Sickle, Nan Wang, James Leja and Keiichi Hirano), strong classicists all. Kudelka has invented a singular travelling motif that represents their whirlwind tour. The five clasp hands, and locked together facing the audience, their speedy, unison footwork takes them sideways across the stage.

En route they meet an assortment of women who could only come out of the droll musings of Kudelka's off-the-wall sense of humour. The skier, the snowshoer in her distinctive Hudson Bay-blanket coat, Dutch skaters, the pilot, the hunter, the beauties from Spain, India and Japan, not to mention the one-legged beggar who causes acute embarrassment for the prince. Each encounter is unique, and nothing repeats. The split-second timing is breathtaking.

It all comes down to Kudelka's sparkling inventiveness. The superb choreography differentiates the personalities of the stepsisters (Tanya Howard and Rebekah Rimsay), highlights their relationships with their lounge-lizard paid escorts (Etienne Lavigne and Piotr Stanczyk) and reveals the machinations of the alcoholic stepmother (Joanna Ivey).

And designer David Boechler's individualized dresses for the corps de ballet women are inspired.

As a final note, Prokofiev was given his just desserts by conductor David Briskin and the ballet orchestra. This production makes one very aware of the composer's melancholy-tinged score, animated by choreography that captures the dark side.

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Cinderella is a triumph for both the company dancers and musicians. Kudelka and Prokofiev are a divinely matched team.


  • The National Ballet of Canada
  • Choreography by James Kudelka
  • Music by Sergei Prokofiev

Cinderella continues until Nov. 20.

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