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Steve Sucato,  |  April 03, 2017

Ballet Biarritz concludes DanceCleveland season with charming adaptation of Cinderella (review)

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Of the classic story ballets, perhaps the most interpreted and reinterpreted worldwide is Cinderella. Charles Perrault's universally familiar 1697 tale has inspired countless choreographers' productions, including Thierry Malandain's 2013 "Cendrillon," which enthralled viewers Saturday night at Playhouse Square's Ohio Theatre.

The 94-minute ballet in two acts, skillfully performed France's 20-member Malandain Ballet Biarritz, was a uniquely engaging and satisfying end to this year's DanceCleveland season.

Set to a recording of Vladimir Ashkenazy conducting the Cleveland Orchestra in a performance of Prokofiev's score for the ballet, Malandain's ballet was mostly faithful to the Cinderella story-line of an abused young girl forced to serve her cruel stepmother and stepsisters, but with embellishments including added elf and sylph characters, and several dream sequences.

Danced in a Euro-French contemporary ballet style a la Jean-Christophe Maillot's Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, the production used a minimalist set design of dozens of womens' black pumps hung in rows on curtains as a backdrop on three sides of the stage.

Act I opened with dancer Patricia Velazquez as Cinderella polishing her father's shoes while fondly remembering her late mother. Petite and powerful, Velaquez combined energy, spirit and a hopefulness in the face of tyranny that proved endearing.

Her daydream was then rudely disrupted by the show-stealing trio of Baptiste Fisson, Arnaud Mahouy, and Frederik Deberdt and as her bald-headed stepmother and stepsisters. Fisson, sporting a pair of forearm crutches, menaced as the stepmother poking and prodding Cinderella while her stepsisters, in full diva mode, taunted her.

Act I also introduced the statuesque and radiant Claire Lonchampt as the "Fairy," a.k.a. Fairy Godmother. Lonchampt's elegant in-line and technique mesmerized. Her character, along with the elves and sylphs, acted as a bridge between the despair of Cinderella's everyday life and the better life she dreamed of having.

Most memorable was a scene in which Velazquez as Cinderella piled on the dresses her stepmother and stepsisters had considered for the King's Ball just as the village's ballet master entered the room, prompting her to pretend to be a coat rack. Juxtaposed with this downtrodden image of Cinderella walking off the stage completely covered in garments were the clownish antics of the stepsisters who hilariously took over the ballet class.

The rest of the well-known story played out in Act II per usual with the Fairy helping Cinderella crash the Ball - this time entering on a Cyr Wheel as a carriage - and the handsome Prince, danced superbly by Daniel Vizcayo.

Adding to the imaginative flavor of the Ball scene: Cinderella's glass slipper was replaced by a black pump, dancers of both sexes were costumed as male guests, and the female guests were represented by rolling, headless mannequins draped with shimmery black gowns.

Highlighting the act were several flowing pas de deuxs performed with grace by Velazquez and Vizcayo, and a transformational happily-ever-after ending in which the bullying stepmother and stepsisters miraculously became good natured.

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