The Nashville Ballet's Cinderella

Last Friday, September 16th, I saw Nashville Ballet’s interpretation of Cinderella at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience and was captivated during all three acts by the energy and joy so evident in the movement of the company dancers. Paul Vasterling’s choreography and interpretation breathes new life into an age-old favorite and marries charmingly with Sergei Prokofiev’s romantic 1944 score.

Kayla Rowser played Cinderella with a confidence not normally associated with classical female roles. She was no demure, elegant, removed figure, but rather a strong, accessible female lead, moving with a joy and assertion that was contagious for the rest of the dancers. Her movement was constantly lifting up, and while graceful, it still reminded me of a little girl twirling with her arms raised to the sky.

Nearly stealing the show were the comedic efforts of Christopher Stuart and Jon Upleger as the evil stepsisters. The men danced en pointe and used it to augment the clumsy physical comedy of the sisters, while at the same time showing off tremendous strength and balance. The two played off each other marvelously, reigned in only with a menacing look from their mother. The gaudy, large, and multi-colored costumes and cartoonish wigs contributed to the hilarity and made the sisters’ movements even more ungainly.

The stepsister’s lack of grace was especially evident beside the amazing extension and speed of the Dancemaster, Nicolas Scheuer. The only dancer that managed to outdo Cinderella, he executed higher brushes on his waltz steps and quicker, more precise footwork. He couldn’t match Kayla’s effortless grace, but perhaps that was a character choice.

Kayla’s pointe shoes act as Cinderella’s glass slippers, and – by extension – Cinderella’s confidence and power. At the start of Act I, Cinderella is barefoot. She appears more reserved and intimidated by her stepmother and two ridiculous stepsisters.  Once she puts the slippers on, however, she is much more assertive and is rarely seen not en pointe for the rest of the ballet.

At first I was surprised that Cinderella’s princess costume stopped above her knee, while the other ball guests had longer tulle skirts. Once Cinderella began dancing with the Prince, however, the intricacy of their movement made it apparent that a longer skirt would have been impractical and prevented the audience from fully appreciating Kayla’s performance. Her legs were nearly as much a part of her dancing as her feet, as she demonstrated with 160º arabesques, effortless grand battements, and expertly controlled pointe work.

Cinderella is a role model for all the young girls in the audience, playing the part of an ambitious young woman who takes her fate into her own hands. Most notably, she approaches the Prince rather than waiting for him to come to her. Judson Veach as the Prince is more that just support for Cinderella. Vasterling’s choreography allows him to display his own athletic talent. Judson’s movement is very stately and regal, and works well with the graceful exuberance of Kayla.

The final scene of the ballet opens on Cinderella in a simple wooden swing, surrounded by the loving embrace of her Prince. It is a very intimate and subdued moment, and not at all the grand finale I was expecting. I thought it lent more support to the lasting happiness of their whirlwind romance than any amount of grandeur could supply.

The sets also contributed to the storybook effect. Bare trees framed the stage at the front and at the midstage curtain, which gave the scene some depth. The enchanted forest theme introduced by the trees and a translucent, forested scrim at the start of the ballet was continued in the second act with the introduction of Alexandra Meister as the Fairy Godmother and Mollie Sansone, Julia Eisen, Julia Mitchell, and Daniella Zlatarev as the Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter fairies. As each of the seasonal fairies performed their solos, the lighting wash changed to mimic each of the seasons.

The set pieces were very minimal, giving an impression of the space in which the movement was taking place, but not drawing away from the performance. One piece of scenery I thought was ingenious was part of the ballroom set. The back wall was made up of panels that alternated windows and mirrors, and the mirrors provided another perspective of the dancers and gave the illusion that there were many more dancers present in the ballroom.

Nashville Ballet’s Cinderella is a modern telling of a classic tale of the power of love. Paul Vasterling’s choreography and Kayla Rowser’s energetic confidence add a new message to the story: that of an ambitious young woman who changes her life for the better. It is an important lesson for young girls and boys alike, and the grace, joy, and humor of the company makes Cinderella a ballet for all ages.

Hannah Moseley