Washington Ballet Unwraps Eye Candy for 'Cinderella'

By Celia Wren
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, May 10, 2008

Midnight can be a perilous time for fairy-tale heroines -- especially for those in the Washington Ballet's "Cinderella" at the Warner Theatre.

The graceful Brianne Bland is expressive and fetching in Cinderella's ragamuffin moments -- partnering a broom with delicate whimsy, as she imagines the ball -- and she breaks down in quiet sobs in an attack of post-party despair. It's designer James Kronzer, however, with his simple but effective sets, who contributes critically to the piece's single, stop-your-heart thrilling moment:

At the end of the ball, luminous clock faces in different sizes descend over the Versailles-like room. Prokofiev's music telegraphs anxiety. Cinderella's gown turns back to rags. As the clocks' lights pulse on and off (Joshua Michaels is lighting designer), the scene acquires a spooky, expressionist intensity.

It's the highlight of an enjoyable edition of Septime Webre's adaptation, whose colorful divertissements, dainty farce and large-scale aristocratic fantasias quite overshadow the central love story. Such was the case on opening night, anyway, when Bland danced the eponymous protagonist and Jared Nelson incarnated the Prince.

But it was harder to keep your eyes on her at the court in this production, filled with whirling, pastel-hued sprites and courtiers in Marie Antoinette-swanky garb. The Prince/Cinderella interactions were genteel and a shade labor-intensive, rather than passionate. (The fact that costumer Judanna Lynn dresses the couple in powder pink, with Michaels often lighting them in a comparable hue -- adding a sort of "Barbie's First Pas de Deux" plasticity -- doesn't help.)

In compensation, though, there was lots else to look at throughout the show (the Washington Ballet previously performed Webre's "Cinderella" in 2003). The image of a forest, silhouetted against a black sky, dominates Kronzer's design. Spidery branches loom constantly overhead, and trees flank the indoor spaces. The motif adds a nice hint of ominousness, even during the stepsisters' extensive clowning. On Thursday, John Goding and Aaron Jackson were cartoon harridans, Jackson deftly supplying pratfalls as the sister who's a hopeless klutz.

The woods turn winsome when the Fairy Godmother (Erin Mahoney-Du) ushers in her numerous elfin and insect sidekicks. The seasonal fairies were particularly fetching Thursday: Jade Payette's Spring frolicked impishly; Elizabeth Gaither's Summer lounged languidly in the arms of the green dragonflies; Morgann Rose's peach-clad Autumn was crisp; Laura Urgelles's Winter echoed the gentleness of the drifting snowflakes. Other sylvan visitors included pint-size bumblebees, whose adorable-tot score was predictably off the charts.

Twigs entwine with chandeliers as the forest frames the ballroom, with its stately mirrors and its nobles in ice-blue Enlightenment attire. Webre's choreography often surrounds Cinderella and the Prince with waltzing courtiers, eclipsing the central lovers but creating a delectable Busby Berkeley effect, especially when the men lift and rotate the women, and the stage dissolves in swirls of azure tulle.

It would be remiss not to appreciate Jonathan Jordan's Jester, who was dexterous and full of personality. Dressed in a purple harlequin outfit, he mocked the stepsisters. He pretended to be a bullfighter's bull when the Prince searched Spain for Cinderella. He leapt into the air and seemed to hang there, arms and legs horizontally outstretched, like an offbeat jack-in-the-box. If Cinderella had any real taste, she would have ditched the bland Prince and eloped with this charismatic wag.

Cinderella, music by Sergei Prokofiev; choreography, Septime Webre. About two hours. Through tomorrow at the Warner Thatre, 513 13th St. NW. Call 202-397-7328 or visit

© 2008 The Washington Post Company