Ballet San Jose’s production of Cinderella, over Mother’s Day weekend, utilized clever PR and community outreach with the company’s “Invitation to the Ball” initiative, gifting thousands of tickets to “deserving kids and a special adult in their lives.” The result: a very full house Saturday night at San Jose’s Center for the Performing Arts. The night’s magic, however, was not just on stage, but amplified by that feeling in the air when a packed house creates a magic of its own. And magic was in the air all night long.

Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley's <i>Cinderella</i> © Robert Shomler
Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley's Cinderella
© Robert Shomler

Choreographer Ben Stevenson’s Cinderella is fun for kids and adults alike. It’s breezy with comedy and an easy-to-swallow morality lesson (be good, treat others kindly) set to Prokofiev’s flowing, rapturous score. It offers appealing fairytale scenery, glamour, royalty, a sweet romance, pulled off beautifully on Saturday night by principals Ommi Pipit-Suksun and Nathan Chaney. Created in 1970 for the National Ballet in Washington DC, Ballet San Jose’s production was staged by associate artistic director Raymond Rodriguez and Karen Gabay (both former company members who also played the roles of Cinderella’s father and stepmother respectively).

In Stevenson’s production, the ugly stepsisters are played by males, complete with skirts, wigs and garish makeup. They regale the audience through the evening, bringing humor, admittedly rather low-brow, into every scene they inhabit. The kids in the audience ate it up. Kendall Teague, in particular, was a show-stealer, finding that perfect blend of camp and attitude throughout the evening. It could even be argued that the stepsisters overshadow Pipit-Suksun’s tender Cinderella, certainly in the first act, which features more pantomime storytelling than it does dance. And if I had one complaint about this production, it would be that. Stevenson’s choreography for Cinderella is thin, lending an inertia to her limited dancing in the first act, that fortunately dissipates by the second act.

But if the first act isn’t heavy on choreography, it still is fun to watch, particularly the electric moment when a bent, old crone turns into a fairy godmother. This time, the cries of amazement from the audience, as a pyrotechnic flash and a puff of smoke produced the magic, came not just from the kids, but adults as well. Amy Marie Briones was a dazzling fairy godmother in her sparkling tutu and crown, dancing with authority, impeccable technique and a beautiful smile. 

The ensuing moonlit glade scene with four fairies representing the seasons brought the best dancing of the first act. Nicole Larson, Sarah Stein, Grace-Anne Powers and Annali Rose all took turns delivering graceful solo variations. Powers, as Autumn Fairy, was particularly impressive to watch, with a sharp articulation that provided a touch of sass. Later, when the four fairies danced together, it was harder to pick a favorite. They all looked exquisite. It seems as though they’re a different company from the one I saw early last year. Artistic director José Manuel Carreño’s positive influence since his 2013 arrival continues to show; these dancers have raised their game and it’s thrilling to observe. A quartet of males, dragonflies Rudy Candia, Ryan DeAlexandro, Jose Gamero and Walter Garcia, exhibited the same fine ensemble and enhanced solo work. 

Act II brings us to the ballroom, where the jester, played by Josue Justiz, kept ball attendees and the audience enthralled. He delivered laughs, leaps, and astonishing pirouettes. Nathan Chaney, as the night’s Prince Charming, provided the perfect regal counterbalance to the antics. A 2014 addition to the company roster, he’s got a powerful presence, employing a sense of control throughout the evening’s dancing, delivering clean, elegant leaps, jumps and beats. He deftly partnered the graceful Pipit-Suksun, now transformed by her sparkling tutu and cleverly designed “glass slipper” pointe shoes. Costumes, designed by Patty Greer McGarity and Virginia Vogel, were especially lovely in this scene. An ensuing ballroom ensemble waltz scene featured the dancers in luscious red dresses, and was pure pleasure to watch.

The third act is thin on story, but allows for a second, more romantic pas de deux. Cheney and Pipit-Suksun’s chemistry as an enamored couple was believable and adorable, as was observing the spellbound silence within the audience. Even without the campy stepsisters, the kids were loving it all. Which was indeed magical to behold.

Ballet San Jose—to be rebranded next season as Silicon Valley Ballet—recently survived a near-dissolution due to financial challenges. The company isn’t out of the water yet, in spite of ever-increasing excellence and exemplary community outreach. Hopefully the players in and around Silicon Valley will step up to offer their own community support. Carreño’s Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley (its transition name) is a company worth fighting for.