With its stoic, kind-hearted heroine, bullied by ornery stepsisters, transformed by a Fairy Godmother and swept off her feet by a handsome prince, the story of Cinderella is not just the stuff of fairytale magic. It’s also the perfect narrative for ballet, and it has inspired numerous choreographic treatments over the years. In fact, Boston Ballet has done three different versions — Stevenson, Corder, and Kudelka — in the past two-plus decades.
However, Sir Frederick Ashton’s “Cinderella,” which was given its company premiere by Boston Ballet on Thursday night, is considered by many the preeminent version. Choreographed in 1948 to a voluptuous score that Sergei Prokofiev composed just four years prior, this “Cinderella” is an undisputed masterpiece of classical elegance liberally laced with farcical humor.
Boston Ballet’s new production, staged by former Royal Ballet principal Wendy Somes, is chock full of inventive choreography, atmospheric sets, opulent costumes, and fabulous dancing, anchored by Misa Kuranaga’s charming, adorable Cinderella.
She portrays the heroine as a combination of innocence and resolve, dancing a wistful duet with a broom and indulging in a spunky moment of mocking her stepsisters’ clumsiness, only briefly giving into tears at the memory of her dead mother. And technically, Kuranaga absolutely sparkles in brilliant turns and light, lyrical balances, with dainty skitters that look as if she is floating on a cushion of air. She gives Ashton’s trademark port de bras a lush fluidity.
However, the ballet’s opening belongs mostly to the two stepsisters, hilariously danced “en travestie” by Boyko Dossev and Yuri Yanowsky. (Ashton himself danced as one of the stepsisters with The Royal Ballet for over a quarter century, and he gives the roles substantive footwork and leaps.) As the clueless father (Roddy Doble) reads and Cinderella dusts, the two engage in a bit of tom-foolery and high mugging, tussling over a shawl and preparing for the ball.
In Ashton’s version, Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother (a gracious Petra Conti) introduces four fairies to prepare Cinderella for the ball. It’s a deviation that slows the story down considerably, but it also affords some terrific solo opportunities.
Dusty Button’s The Fairy Winter was a standout, regal and cool, her sharply canted limbs suggesting shards of ice. Twelve Stars, who later recall the midnight hour as the clock ticks down, usher in a gorgeously lit carriage to carry Cinderella off to the ball.
With flamboyant jumps, split leaps, and tumbles, Avetik Karapetyan’s Jester opens the Act II ball with a bang. Jeffrey Cirio makes a dazzling Prince, with impeccable footwork and lofty grand jetés and sissonnes. He provides an attentive partner to Kuranaga’s Cinderella, who contributes the act’s pivotal moment — a grand entrance en pointe down the central staircase, trailed by yards of tulle.
And of course, we get more of the stepsisters. Funny though they are, and performed with great comic zest, they threaten to become too much of a good thing, especially given the ballet’s 2½-hour plus length. A little tightening would make the work nearly ideal for younger audiences.
Throughout, however, Ashton’s “Cinderella” provides an excellent showcase for the company, including a substantial cadre of students. Though some of the corps work looked a little unsettled on opening night, most of the solos, and there were a lot of them, were impressive, and the Boston Ballet Orchestra under conductor Jonathan McPhee imbued Prokofiev’s colorful score with precision and flair.
The most memorable moment of the ballet is the work’s final tableaux. After Cinderella and her Prince reunite with a lovely, understated pas de deux, the Stars and Fairies send the couple on their way amidst a spectacular rain of glitter.