By appealing directly to Bay Area ballet-goers, Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley Artistic Director José Manuel Carreño, with help from Chief Executive Officer, Alan Hineline, and Interim Director of Development Millicent Powers, dodged the depredations of creditors intent on calling in the company’s staggering debt. BSJSV exceeded projections for this year’s budget, but is still without the necessary integers to guarantee another season. Despite the Gordian knot of financial problems he inherited from past administrators, Carreño has his eyes fixed firmly on the prize: audience development among the City of San Jose’s youth. The company offered a Cinderella Mother’s Day package that included free tickets if you were a member of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Silicon Valley involved in a Kaiser Permanente outreach program, and brought your mother to the ballet. The response was tremendous, and as you waited in the lobby for the doors to open, you could hear snatches of animated conversation in Spanish, French, Russian, Mandarin and Hmong, with the majority of attendees coming from an array of non-Caucasian races and nationalities. It’s something you long to see at ballet performances in North America or Europe, but never do, and deserves to be applauded because it registers interest in the ballet from sectors of Silicon Valley dwellers whose enthusiasm indicates that they would go if tickets were affordable. In the long run, this is the ballet’s best investment, planting a seed whose bounty will be harvested in the not-too-distant future when, as adults, the children recall their first exposure to the art form, and become regulars. The full-house turnout begged for a reduced-price package for next season, and maybe with some forward-looking financial planning, soliciting support for offering such a package can play a role in future fundraising.
Ommi Pipit-Suksun, possessed of a natural vulnerability side by side with a cultivated versatility, is the Cinderella of Cinderellas, moving with facility through Ben Stevenson’s academic choreography, as she just as handily navigates the moods portended by her abused-step-child plight. Stevenson’s version introduces her father, danced by Raymond Rodriguez. Father is the now-hapless, now-ineffectual figure who shares in Cinderella’s mourning for her mother. We see that he loves his daughter dearly, but can’t or won’t intervene on her behalf to curtail the textbook case cruelties that his wife, the Stepmother, danced by Karen Gabay, and her two Stepsisters, danced en travestie by Kendall Teague and Akira Takahashi, inflict on Cinderella. This first-act introduction to characters and plot is perhaps the ensemble’s finest hour, because the choreography looks more expository than decorative, and captures Stevenson’s talent for eliciting pathos, and with the help of the dark notes of the Prokofiev score, pulls us in rather than over shares.
The staging by Rodriguez and Gabay looks very different from what I recall of the Houston Ballet performance of this work. In that version, the role of the Stepmother went to a male dancer (full disclosure: the male dancer was my son) and seemed to involve more dancing that was less fretful and more aggressive. In that staging, the Stepsisters danced en pointe instead of in character shoes, and so tendered a more restrained, and punctilious interpretation of their ill-willed caprices. Still, the humor is delightful—leaning on dance insider jokes that even non-dancers can enjoy. The Stepsisters “force” their fifth positions, or bust out in rangy assemblés and changements, to impress their Dancing Master (Joshua Seibel), whose orthodox mix of exasperation and restraint offers a snapshot of what survives in generation upon generation of dance masters. Meanwhile, Cinderella, in her demure persona, dances a perfectly placed and timed minuet in her little corner of the world.
The Fairy Godmother, Amy Marie Briones, leads a procession of solo dances by seasonal fairies. As Spring Fairy, Nicole Larson sprinkled enough fairy dust on hers to make it glisten, but the overall fairy choreography looked labored, and in need of brighter seasoning to give it more zing. The fairies are, after all, Cinderella’s support group, and they need sufficient sizzle to kindle her confidence.
Josue Justiz as the Jester opens Act II smartly, with a sprightly array of tricks that forecasts a better future for Cinderella. The Stepsisters return in competing solos, the first more over-the-top than the second, and ending in a dead faint, or feint, to be precise. The second is more timid, featuring tour jeté with flexed foot, another insider joke that “plays” as a crowd-pleaser, and ends in a Dying Swan combré front, the dancer seated on the floor with legs extended. It’s the farce version of ballet that everyone loves to hate, but the multitudes of children in the audience offer unconditional love and approval.
Four Dragonflies (Rudy Candia, Ryan DeAlexandro, Jose Gamero, and Walter Garcia stand in for footmen, in costumes (Patty Greer McGarity and Virginia Vogel) that have more flounce to the ounce than those of the Fairies combined. It’s a shame, because they obscure the men’s line, and hide the hard work they do. At the Grand Ball, we meet the Prince, danced by Nathan Chaney. He is a spitfire technician, but shows no affect in relation to his partner, the stunning mystery guest, Cinderella, leaving Pipit-Suksun to single-hand the partnership’s luff in a pas de deux that is perfect technically. In Act III, after the Stepsisters clown through the glass slipper try-ons, with Cinderella producing the slipper’s mate to establish ownership, there is a longer, perfectly executed pas de deux that runs the gamut of ballet steps, but is untethered to the theme, and its happily-ever-after resolution. Instead, the loose ends tie themselves up in a reconciliation of Cinderella and Prince with Father and the stepfamily.
One can’t help but wonder what in this production might shine more brightly were it accompanied by a live orchestra. The love-hate relationship with the orchestra that every dancer and every orchestra share, seems to prime some primal pump in the dancers, and as much as they can hate a tinny recording of the same music, the “love” half of that brushfire contradiction can fall through the cracks.