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The Philadelphia Ballet opens its season with the family-friendly Cinderella, choreographed by Ben Stevenson. Audiences can expect all the glitter of a story ballet, and the score by Sergei Prokofiev is a lesser-known treat, but for a deeper dive into the ballet, I went to an expert: company rehearsal director Charles Askegard. Askegard joined the artistic staff in 2015 after a dance career that spanned both the New York City Ballet and the American Ballet Theater, where he performed Cinderella’s prince.
Stepping up Cinderella
I wanted to know what children would find to love in the ballet, and Askegard pointed to the familiar story. The ballet tells it extraordinarily well, he said, so “they can follow along with the ballet, and they know where they are in the story.” Kids will laugh at the silly stepsisters and the jester, and there will be dancing in those glittery tutus not only by Cinderella, but also the fairies Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter, along with the handsome prince. Children from the company’s school will perform as angels and as the horses that pull Cinderella’s carriage.
For the grown-ups in the audience, Askegard pointed to the next-level dancing of the corps. And, he said, the two pas de deux are gorgeous. “In the second act, the pas de deux is full of love and hope and that new energy of finding somebody. And then the third act is much more of a realized kind of love just before their marriage.” The second act gives us rapturous dancing supported on Prokofiev’s glorious music, he said. When the pas de deux in the third act begins, the couple match arm movements and continue moving as one throughout. To Askegard, “it’s a beautiful way to put physically what is happening emotionally.”
Cinderella would not be complete without its busy kitchen scenes—controlled chaos played for fun. Askegard drew my attention particularly to the first act: “You have the two stepsisters, the stepmother, the father, Cinderella, the dressmaker, the wigmaker, the dance master, the assistants.”
The company last performed Cinderella in 2016. At a Zoom webinar with the choreographer and stager Dawn Scannell, dancer Sterling Baca said that the prince was his first role when he joined the company that year, and that he brings growth and experience to his interpretation on opening night with Sydney Dolan as Cinderella. (There will be six casts over the run.) Askegard himself danced as a stepsister in 2016, but this year, he’s working with the company dancers to hone their character roles, getting the stepsisters’ moves right. “One is bossy and one is shy—what is that physicality?”
The ballet presents a real challenge to dancers. They have to get their complicated steps right on a stage that is often crowded with the coming and going of comic scenes while they perform in character. When it all comes together, though, it draws us right into a magical world.
What, When, Where
Cinderella. Choreography by Ben Stevenson. Philadelphia Ballet Company. $25-$225. October 13 through 23, 2022, at the Academy of Music, 240 South Broad Street, Philadelphia. (215) 893-1999 or philadelphiaballet.org.
Masks are welcomed but not required at the Kimmel Cultural Campus. For changes to this policy, the Kimmel encourages audiences to visit their website 24 hours prior to attending events.
The Academy of Music is an ADA compliant venue.
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