Texas Ballet Theater has nailed the perfect fairy tale in its production of Cinderella, a dreamy and funny ballet that appeals to aspiring princesses and cynical mamas alike. The Ben Stevenson version, using Sergei Prokofiev’s wide-ranging score, is a beautifully danced and vivid rendition of the classic tale.
For parents of the Cinderella obsessed, it’s also a nice departure from the usual princess fare. The diminutive but powerful Leticia Oliveira plays the heroine not as a wishy-washy and helpless softie, but as an emotional and multi-dimensional woman — mourning her mother, hoping for a better future, and even standing up to her wicked stepsisters.
And those stepsisters are over-the-top and deliciously wicked — almost harmlessly so. Their antics are so clunky, so comedic, that it’s hard to think of them as evil, really. They’re caricatures, played for laughs by the hilarious Carl Coomer and Alexander Kotelenets, whose technical skill manages to shine through the silliness. Every second that they are onstage, all eyes are on them.
That’s not to say that they stole the show — they could have, easily, but Oliveira had a solid command of the audience every time she jetéd across the stage. Not a stereotypical blonde-haired, blue-eyed Cinderella — making her all the more appealing — the Brazilian ballerina is a force of strength, movement and expression throughout all three acts.
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Those three acts seem a bit daunting, especially if you’re accompanied by a kindergartner and it’s an 8 p.m. show, but the program moves fluidly to each intermission. It’s also laid out so that the story is easy to follow, even for those whose experience with ballet is limited to accessorizing with tutus — the acting is exuberant but never goofy, and the plot retains the familiar while also incorporating an airy forest scene (fairies!) and a beautiful wedding (happy endings!).
The score, though not performed live during the Richardson engagement, holds the ballet together through its narrative — never overpowering, but still giving ample room for Stevenson to work in comedic pratfalls, romance, and Fairy Godmother-sanctioned magic. And the magic is plentiful throughout the performance: dancers dressed as white horses pull that storied carriage so fluidly that the aforementioned kindergartner had trouble determining whether they were real or not. And the bland Disney Cinderella so idolized by said kindergartner has been replaced on her bookshelf by a photo of Oliveira and an autographed pointe shoe. That’s a fairy tale ending I can get behind.
This review is of the performance of Texas Ballet Theater’s “Cinderella” at the Eisemann Center on Friday, March 11; the show will be repeated at Bass Performance Hall with accompaniment by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra at 8 p.m. Friday, March 25; at 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, March 26; and at 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, March 27. The Sunday matinee will feature a special “Tutus and Tiaras” event, with festivities beginning at 1 p.m. Tickets are $22-$143 at tickets.texasballettheater.org.