Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production of Cinderella, conceived and choreographed in 1994 by Founding Artistic Director Kent Stowell, is a sweet and tender story of love lost and found. In sustaining this romantic focus throughout the ballet, Stowell has departed meaningfully from earlier modern versions of Cinderella, most of which take their lead from Frederick Ashton’s 1948 production for the Royal Ballet. Drawing heavily on the English music hall tradition, especially in the depiction of the ugly stepsisters (who are danced by men en travestie), these Cinderellas, Stowell believes, are more comic-tragic than romantic in feeling. And, wedded to the original 1945 score, which Sergei Prokofiev modeled on the 19th-century ballets of Marius Petipa, they boast more theatrical variety than narrative or emotional cohesiveness.
Restoring the continuity of Cinderella’s story and its feeling became Stowell’s guiding principle in the design of PNB’s production. Central to this conception is the contrast between the Real World and the Dream World of Cinderella’s experience. A young woman whose beloved mother has died and whose father has remarried, in reverie she revisits the happiness of the past even as she tries to cope bravely with the unhappiness of her new home life. When her fairy godmother appears, and is the same dancer as the memory-mother it is clear that the love Cinderella experienced as a child remains with her into adulthood—a deep store of wisdom and hope to guide her towards future happiness. As she meets the Prince at the ball in Act II and as he searches for and finds her in Act III, the emphasis is steadily on the realization of a love relationship which restores a lost wholeness.
To achieve this narrative and emotional continuity, some revision of the Prokofiev score has been necessary. For example, Prokofiev wrote incidental music for the play Eugene Onegin that has been incorporated into Act I, making the dance lesson a meaningful contrast between Cinderella’s natural grace and the stepsisters’ awkwardness. To further reinforce the dramatic resonance, the mazurka in Act II has been replaced by the gavotte that Prokofiev wrote for his first symphony (and which he later rewrote for his Romeo and Juliet). A waltz that ended Act I now opens Act II, so that our first musical impression of the ball is of a glorious atmosphere for romance. And incidental music from Prokofiev’s opera Love for Three Oranges provides ideal music for newly conceived entertainment at the ball—The Theater of Marvels—that re-enacts the moral and psychological issues of the entire ballet. Other sources materials include Summer Day, the “Mephisto Waltz” from the opera Lermontov, and the ballet The Stone Flower.
With resplendent costumes by Martin Pakledinaz and sets by Tony Straiges that evoke an exquisite 18th-century world, PNB’s Cinderella is a fully realized romantic fairy tale for our time.
Notes by Jeanie Thomas.