Kansas City Ballet’s first performance of Cinderella tonight was attractive, pacey and narratively light-hearted. Prepared for something a little conventionally twee in the way of the set, I was pleasantly surprised when the curtains opened on a domestic interior that looked like a Cezanne painting. Earthy colors and the offbeat geometry of vaguely cubist forms: there was a sour rightness about it all that worked a treat with Prokofiev’s score. It later looked marvelous when the color was bleached for the blue-lit scenes of Cinderella’s melancholy reminiscences. The other sets, while perfectly good, didn’t quite equal the initial artistic statement; still, the tone was set and imaginatively, one felt one was somewhere in the twentieth century along with Prokofiev and Cezanne and that crowd of inventive genii. 

Cinderella Act 1
© Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios

From there, the pace flowed very rapidly; the orchestra pressed the score onwards. Devon Carney’s choreography was busy, as it would be in a ballet where the correct time is of the essence and in which fifty micro-scenes are fitted into three acts. The stage was heavily peopled. Little people from the Kansas City Ballet School joined as wig and mirror holders and fairy assistants, filling out the other-worldly dimensions of the magical space. 

Naomi Tanioka as Cinderella in Devon Carney's Cinderella
© Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios

The Clock Scene was a lovely piece of theater: an alluring representation of the time-space squeeze that confounds Cinderella in the middle of her fateful night out. As the clock inexorably strikes twelve, dancers with luminously white numbers whirled about her, while relentless projections of clock faces reeled at her from the auditorium. It felt like the scene from Alice in Wonderland with the cards tumbling down around her and the disarray felt fantastical and fun. 

Cameron Thomas and Gavin Abercrombie as the stepsisters in Cinderella
© Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios

Bravo to Naomi Tanioka in the role of Cinderella. She danced with freshness and dainty precision throughout. A naturally buoyant spirit, the emotional freight of the first act seemed to pass her by. If you’re that happy, I guess, not even your stepmother can really victimize you and besides, brooms with top-hats can make decent dancing partners too, in a pinch, and make for picturesque domesticity en pointe. I did feel slightly cheated that her transformation from rags to robes didn’t happen on stage, in the twinkling of an eye, with lots of distracting stage action, but instead happened all too safely off-stage. 

Cinderella Act 2
© Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios

But I especially loved what Tanioka brought to Act II, a marvelous authenticity of feeling. A pas de deux can often feel extremely scripted, as boy-meets-girl and dances it out. But Tanioka was narratively pitch-perfect, pliant, gracious, winning, surprised by love. A little chemistry to complement a fine technique goes a long way. Andrew Vecseri partnered her with grace. 

Cinderella Act 3 with Naomi Tanioka and Andrew Vecseri
© Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios

The stepsisters, danced in travesti by Cameron Thomas and Gavin Abercrombie were the rambunctious epitome of pantomime dames. They were everywhere and nowhere at once, simpering and goofing about, in their preposterous dress, or indeed undress, and brightly-colored oversize pantoufles. Perhaps, for some, their camp antics were over-egged and a bit distracting (they certainly were stage-stealers and knew it), but I feel if one is to do these caricatures at all, one has to go all out, and there’s surely a sizeable place for parody here. As the nub of whole drama is about feet and shoe size, I’m completely on board with the silly pantoufles, as noteworthy, in their way, as the sparkly pointe shoes. So who’s having fun on stage? It is not a question you always think to ask of classical ballet. It seems irreverent. But Thomas and Abercrombie clearly were and the fun was infectious. Sometimes it might just be a tad boring to be a conventional ballet prince and do what is expected of one, always support one’s better half. Cavorting across the stage as Petunia and Daisy, doing absolutely everything you shouldn’t, must provide some light relief to leading males.