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Flash Review, 10-20: Out of the Past
Chryst & Holder, Together Again for Joffrey

By Catey Ott
Copyright 2006 Catey Ott

CHICAGO -- As a part of the Joffrey Ballet's two-year 50th anniversary celebration, the company premiered Frederick Ashton's delightful "Cinderella" at the ornate Auditorium Theatre, October 4-15. As previously reported here, it had been a longtime dream of the late Robert Joffrey to remount this million dollar production on his company and became a sort of personal mission for current artistic director Gerald Arpino to fulfill, so this show truly was a remarkable tribute to Joffrey. Adding to the thrill of this event, former Joffrey stars Gary Chryst and Christian Holder returned as special guest artists in the roles of Cinderella's Stepsisters. Ashton created these roles for men dressed in drag in the style of English pantomime, which added wonderful humor to the classic tale. The Chicago Sinfonetta, under the fine direction of principal conductor Leslie B. Dunner, proudly played Sergei Prokofiev's dynamic score in the performance I caught Sunday afternoon, while the Joffrey dancers filled the stage with incredible dancing and characterizations, bringing the fairy tale to life.

Chryst and the relatively more towering, incredibly long-limbed Holder were fully animated with over-the-top costumes, make-up, and artificial large noses. The pair's non-stop slap-stick humor was tightly timed and choreographed, topped off with facial expressions, hand gestures, and clutsy foot rhythms in high healed shoes. These two clowns both loved and taunted each other and also kept the housekeeper Cinderella from the comfort of her father. In preparation for the great ball, the sisters were visited by a tailor, dress-maker, shoemaker, hairdresser, jeweler, and coachman. They went back and forth between gowns that were too big or too small and hats that did or did not match, and made a mess with an abundance of make-up. The energy, completely explored characterizations, and full-bodied commitment that Chryst and Holder exuded throughout the performance were truly amazing.

On Sunday, the role of Cinderella was played by Maia Wilkins, a petite yet regal dancer with exquisite control, lightness, and line. At first timid under the wrath of her ugly stepsisters and saddened by her mother's death, Wilkins's Cinderella projected a sweet demeanor clouded with gloom. Left alone, she began to emerge in grounded solos filled with hundreds of incredibly rapid, tiny, and rhythmical steps on her pristine toes that glided across the stage. Unhappy that she was not invited to the ball, she pretended that she was there by dancing a duet with her broom as her date. Starting off simply, she moved through more rhythmic flexed foot patterns until she achieved a more peaceful state. Her legs soon soared as she flourished about, concluding with a leaping finish.

Juliane Kepley gave a brilliant portrayal of the Fairy Godmother, shining as much as her silvery jeweled tutu, designed by David Walker, whose original costuming for every role was made with rich colors and fabrics that complemented the dancers' movements. Kepley wore a sweet smile above her suspended arabesques, toe hops, and gently circling arms. She introduced fairies of the four seasons, each performing a variation for Cinderella. Heather Aagard danced in the joy of spring, Kathleen Theilhelm flowed through the heat of summer, Jennifer Goodman brought leaves into her spunky phrases of autumn, and Valerie Robin dipped her shoulders and head around elegantly between extending her long, icicle legs through winter. The fairy magic made Cinderella's dreams come true as a coach decorated in silver tinsel swept across the stage, carrying her off to the ball.

One shining star at the ball was Calvin Kitten, the Jester, who danced among the courtiers. He leapt with ease, lightness, and great height while mesmerizing the guests with his charming and youthful demeanor. The 13 courtiers, costumed in gorgeous purple velvet gowns and suits, moved elegantly through well designed court dances that involved subtle head inflections, creative lifts, and weaving floor patterns. Also among the crowd were the ugly stepsisters. Their search for satisfaction and rapport with a male suitor that matched their height became a comedic challenge. They each performed a spoof variation in the likeness of a ballerina, dramatically struggling through leg extensions, lifts, and pirouettes with feet turned inward.

The Prince of strong stature and gentle presence, performed by Willy Shives, then arrived dressed in white, awaiting a princess. Cinderella mysteriously appeared, and with a stunned look on her face, she descended a grand staircase to meet the prince. They danced together among a dancing corps of 12 stars from the night sky and then displayed solos to express their dreams of love for each other. Wilkins's refined technique shone through as she accomplished several loops of turns around her prince, arriving back to her center to balance on one leg. As midnight approached, the lights flashed, Cinderella ran to and fro, and the orchestra played the ticking of a clock. Then out from the frenzy, Cinderella, dressed again in her rags, dashed out of the ball, leaving one silver slipper behind.

Now back in her home, our heroine awoke from a dream with her broom dance partner in hand. She slowly began to retrace her movements from the ball dances as the memories of the Prince came back to her. One silver slipper suddenly fell from her dress as she realized that her dream was reality. The ugly stepsisters returned from the ball, followed by the Prince and his entourage in search of the damsel whose foot fit the lone silver slipper. As Cinderella helped Holder's stepsister try to jam the tiny shoe on his large foot, the other slipper fell from her dress. The prince then recognized her and took her to be his wife.

The fairy godmother made a glorious return to the stage, bringing with her the corps of stars holding light-up wands. The entire cast entered for the royal wedding and Cinderella and her Prince united in a duet with romantic lifts, bringing the classic tale to an end. The Joffrey Ballet's excellent reproduction of Fredrick Ashton's "Cinderella" would have made Robert Joffrey proud.

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