By: Chan Sze-Wei
In case you had any doubt, the shoes make the princess. To open its 2009 season, SDT revisited Graham Lustig’s whimsical Cinderella and her fabulously bling pointe shoes.
The story is at times convoluted – the stepsisters and stepmother fling themselves at a John Travolta-lookalike dancing master? The fairy godmother invites the four seasons into Cinderella’s apartment? Godmother disguises herself as the Maitre’D in the prince’s ball? The prince decides to search for his love with a junket trip to Arabia and Asia? – but did it really matter so long as Cinderella got to marry her prince? The surprising twists showed off Lustig’s flair for musicality and dramatic visual effect, and the company carried the comic moments and challenging passages with warmth.
Xia Hai Ying as Cinderella did not disappoint with her transformation from barefoot girlishness into her trademark ethereal grace, where she sailed through a spectacularly technical pas de deux, notwithstanding a costume malfunction with her disintegrating gown and a tiny slip as she knelt to face the prince.
But the stars of the show were without a doubt the delightfully wicked stepsisters (Natalie Clarke, Liu Xiao Mi). Together with their purple-beehived stepmother (dancer for this season Fanny Fan), they had the audience in stitches with a grotesque and bitchy pointe performance – stalking around in dressing gowns, tussling over nail polish, burying Cinderella in dirty laundry, and flinging themselves awkwardly at the prince and his companions only to be carted away unceremoniously in bundles of flexed feet.
In a terrifically campy moment, a whole couch of nosy onlookers bounced up and down with the stepmother struggling to pound the magic slipper onto her daughters’ feet.
The evening also saw solid performances from Sakura Shimizu as the graceful but cheeky fairy godmother, splendid mischief and suspended allegro from the prince’s chums Wang Hao and Toru Okada, and fine acrobatic control from Chihiro Uchida as the temple dancer. SDT’s newest addition, Heather Chin, debuted as a lithe Arabian dancer produced from a roll of carpet.
The general sense of spectacle suffered, however, from its setting. In an attempt to adapt the 2004 sets, multiple video projections were added on the screen walls of Cinderella’s home. Without adequate lighting adaptation, the extra videos and already cluttered original set detracted from the action and performers’ emotions.
The prince’s ballroom was dressed up with a set of bizarre chandeliers (resembling giant polo mints in a fishnet), and a garish video crest/clock that doubled up as a disconcertingly glassy-eyed live portrait of Cinderella (a la Swan Lake premonitions) that the prince was supposed to be enchanted with. More successful was the stunning magic cloak that Cinderella entered Act II in, which suspended from her shoulders up into the fly bars, and then released upwards like a curl of smoke when she took her prince’s hand; as well as the minimalist divan-inspired white drapes of the third act that served as the roof for the prince’s travels around the world.
The three-act ballet provided two and a half hours’ wonderment even for the children in the audience, who gasped with joy when their peers emerged as Cinderella’s pet dragonflies and crickets, and when the show ended in a great cloud of golden fairy dust. It certainly made this reviewer want to go pointe shoe shopping afterward.
**Read our interview with Chihiro Uchida and Janek Schergen. [HERE]