Michael Pink’s new Cinderella
The dysfunctional family dynamics behind Cinderella, missing from every other ballet version I’ve seen, come clear in Michael Pink’s new setting for the Milwaukee Ballet.
In Pink’s version, which premiered Thursday, Cinderella’s mother has just died. A wealthy, sexy, evil widow snatches up her impoverished father practically at graveside. His situation makes him powerless to protect his virtually enslaved daughter.
These heavy ideas make sense of the story and give it momentum, but they don’t weigh on the ballet. The tone is light because Pink does not call upon his dancers to emote. He tells the whole story in dance, and the dancing is buoyant in conception and execution.
Thursday, that began with Tatiana Jouravel’s airy delicacy, particularly her bird-like way of hopping onto point. Jouravel is entirely endearing but never explicitly asks for the sympathy of the audience. No slumping shoulders for her, to demonstrate despair; her perfect deportment said: I am resigned to my situation but retain my dignity.
Her foil was not so much the comic sisters (Marc Petrocci and Darren Christian McIntyre, en travesti) but the stepmother. Raven Wales, with a mean streak of gray in her jet-black wig, was an aggressive, dangerous woman, a cougar on the prowl. Cinderella is a threat to her and her daughters. Wales was pitch perfect; she let the dancing define her character and avoided the Cruella DeVille cliches.
Pink wisely adhered to the time-honored structure of the story ballet and contrasted prosaic movement in a domestic setting with poetic movement in fantastical settings. He replaced the gratuitous Fairy Godmother with the ghost of the girl’s mother, played charmingly by Karisa Stich. She sweeps her daughter into a land of dance, with a formal corps of eight women and four classic couples.
Those couples are spirits of the gown, the glass slippers, the coachmen and of the midnight hour. Never mind that their brief duets look lifted from other classical ballets; the point is the contrast with the scruffy, combative asymmetrical numbers with the sisters that came before. The point is that the action has moved from the real to the ideal, and the change provides a wonderful relief that we didn’t realize we needed until we felt it.
Jouravel’s Prince is Ryan Martin, a very good match. I like his blunt face and expressive body. Martin is not a typcal Romantic ballet figure. He’s very American, the strong, silent type, a Gary Cooper among dancers. He gives the impression of simple sincerity, and in that is the reflection of Jouravel’s Cinderella.
Pink’s dance invention is clever in its delineation of character and situation, in its humor, and in its relation to Prokofiev’s wonderful score. (The Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra, led by Andrews Sill, played it well.)
The dancing told the story, the story shaped the dancing, and the two lived happily ever after.
Cinderella runs through Sunday at Marcus Center Uihlein Hall. For the full performance schedule and alternate casting, as well as a video of an interview with Michael Pink, please click on this link.
Other reviews: Elaine Schmidt
Gallery of Michael S. Levine’s photos from the Milwaukee Ballet’s Cinderella production: