Kent Stowell’s ballet Cinderella was first presented by Pacific Northwest Ballet in 1994, and reprised by the company several times since, with the current production looking as fresh and attractive as the original. This owes a lot to sumptuous and colorful costume designs by Martin Pakledinaz as well as the excellence of the dancers.

Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers in Kent Stowell’s Cinderella
© Angela Sterling

Stowell shines in scenes where acting is an integral part of the story, and the first half of the first act succeeds admirably, as Cinderella, in drab blue and a mob cap, contrasts with the zany, quarrelsome stepsisters (Nancy Casciano and Abby Jayne DeAngelo), and with the amusing over-the-top parade of dressmaker, wigmaker, dancing master and so on, plus the ancient beggar woman to whom she gives warmth and food.

Noelani Pantastico, dancing Cinderella opening night, embodied the innocence, gentleness and fortitude of this young, abused girl. The arrival of the fairy godmother, Laura Tisserand, gives the audience a chance to see the lovely line, excellent balance and grace of both her and Pantastico.

At several points in the ballet, including near the start when Cinderella is alone, we see her memories of a happier childhood behind a scrim, (also some of the shoe quest, later). This works quite well to fill out the story.

The ballroom scene is another standout, largely due to the brilliant scarlet costumes of all the guests swirling around to Prokofiev’s waltz, with Cinderella, a vision in white, arriving in a horse-drawn coach escorted by several formally dressed children. The stepsisters cavort and pursue the Prince enthusiastically, thwarted each time by the Jester. Benjamin Griffiths danced him brilliantly with energy and split-second timing, both as interference for the Prince and in his own exuberant performance. As the Prince, Seth Orza acted well as he managed to avoid the two sisters and danced as splendidly as he always does.

Abby Jayne DeAngelo and Nancy Casciano in Kent Stowell’s Cinderella
© Angela Sterling

Back in the family kitchen, we see more of the stepsisters’ crass behavior, their mother’s dismissal of Cinderella, the father’s spinelessness and of course their eventual comeuppance, very well accomplished, plus the final pas de deux of Cinderella and the Prince.

If this was the complete ballet, with the addition of providing Cinderella’s ball gown, the whole would be totally satisfactory, but Stowell has added maybe another 30 minutes most of which seems extraneous to the story, more like padding. Stowell is at his least compelling in choreography for larger groups, which always seems to be relatively uninspired with a lot of arm-waving and which ends up boring. He does this here by creating an outdoor scene with a corps of fairies plus four more representing the seasons, and after they dance for a while, they come up with the different articles of clothing for Cinderella. It gives a chance however, for several solos in which Angelica Generosa as Spring, and Leah Marchant as Winter were outstanding. There are also a large number of children as Bugs and some described as Clock Children though they appeared to be pumpkins or carrots.

Noelani Pantastico and Seth Orza in Kent Stowell’s Cinderella
© Angela Sterling

The ballroom scene, while charming, becomes repetitive and a show of Marvels, with an evil sprite (Kyle Davis), a good fairy (Tisserand again), both with attendant children, and Harlequin and Columbine, do their stuff, admittedly very well, but it just adds unnecessarily to the length of the scene.

Lastly, after Cinderella puts on the slipper, she and the Prince are transported, apparently to Cloud Nine (there is no “nine” actually on the backdrop of clouds but there easily could be), where the corps of fairies dance with the godmother and eventually they disappear and the two leads are able to dance their final pas de deux, which was breathtaking.

Tony Straige’s scenery, particularly the kitchen and the ballroom are excellent, but the first fairy scene has a large, gloomy, moated castle on the backdrop. If it was lighted, one could imagine it to be where the ball is held, but it isn’t. And the forest behind the ballroom scene has large pieces of what appear to be ghost statuary – I thought I recognized Pan – wafting through the trees. What for?

The PNB orchestra, led by Emil de Cou, has been described as the best ballet orchestra in the US and they lived up to that billing with a wonderfully rich realization of Prokofiev’s score.