If you don't go to the ballet because you think it's an overly earnest or outdated art form, check out Dance Theatre of Tennessee's Cinderella teaser video on YouTube. As Prokofiev's somber strains play in the background, the evil stepsisters razz Cinderella like a couple of trash-talkin' girls straight off the set of The Jerry Springer Show.
Of course, when DTT's Cinderella hits the Father Ryan stage this weekend, you won't see the stepsisters trash-talking. But you will see some of the same sense of humor, imagination and energy that went into making what has to be the funniest ballet trailer we've ever seen. (OK, it may be the only ballet trailer we've seen, but still, it's hilarious.)
DTT's production spotlights the work of the late choreographer Tom Pazik, a renowned figure who was artistic director of the Atlanta Ballet in the 1980s. DTT artistic director Christopher Mohnani directs, while Atlanta Ballet principal ballerina and ballet mistress Kathryn McBeth Hutcheson serves as répétiteur.
You know the story: A young orphan girl lives with her evil stepmother and stepsisters, serves as their maid, something about a fairy godmother, prince, shoe, blah blah blah, happily ever after. Yes, it's an extremely familiar tale, but it lends itself perfectly to the medium of ballet, and not only because it is already filled with music and dancing. "The style of dance combined with the humor really makes the dichotomy of good versus evil stand out," Mohnani says, "which is really the important message of the story."
The comedy comes from the slapstick capers of the two stepsisters and the stepmother, which as balletic tradition dictates, are played by three men in dresses dancing en pointe. Guadalupe Medina, Casey Myrick, and Kelvin Amburgey, whom Mohnani recruited from Nashville's tight-knit dance community, steal the spotlight whenever they are onstage — and they're surprisingly talented dancers, given the fact that none of them has ever worn pointe shoes before.
But the show isn't all pulling hair and catfights. It features graceful choreography, Prokofiev's magnificent score and Randy Purcell and Ken Walls' wonderful sets. In an original scene that isn't featured in the story or the movie, the fairy godmother transports Cinderella to a mystical forest filled with fairies and dragonflies. The fairies, each representing a different season, take the stage solo or in pairs and perform challenging choreography featuring intricate lifts and partner work. Mohnani also saw this as the perfect opportunity to allow some of his younger students to experience performance on the big stage — they appear as dragonflies, little fairies and gypsies, and even get their own dance number.
But nothing is more magnificent than the big ballroom scene, where Cinderella, played by Jennifer Drake, and the Prince, played by Brian Williamson, finally get to dance together and share their first sweet kiss. Their ballet talents are impressive, but it's their apparent emotional connection and acting ability that ultimately sells the production. Drake's face is quite expressive, and she somehow manages to convey a wide range of emotions while jumping and pirouetting her way around the stage. And Dillon Davis deserves a shout-out for his impressive acrobatics as the court jester.
DTT's Cinderella is delightful, and makes for a great family outing. While the choreography and execution are top-notch, the comedic element in particular should keep the kids entertained.
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