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Ballet West readies new 'Cinderella' for Valentine’s Day

By Heather Hayes

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Feb. 9 2013 12:30 p.m. MST

Ballet West First Soloists Arolyn Williams and Haley Henderson Smith in Sir Frederick Ashton's "Cinderella."

Erik Ostling

As Ballet West prepares for the Feb. 14 opening of “Cinderella” with reality show cameras rolling to capture every moment, no doubt much will be made of the three ladies cast for the coveted lead role.

With the CW Network’s filming crew camped out everywhere from the studios to backstage, it’s no wonder all eyes will be fixed on Christiana Bennett, Katherine Lawrence and Arolyn Williams. However, fans of the TV show “Breaking Pointe” will have to wait until summer to see any behind-the-scenes casting drama.

“I’m thrilled to have been selected to dance as Cinderella,” says Williams, “It’s been a dream since I was a little girl.” Like most women, she remembers twirling with a broom from a very young age, imagining she was that scullery-maid-turned-princess. Such memories only add to the “very surreal” feeling of dancing the part, she says.

During last season’s “Breaking Pointe,” the realities surrounding casting unfolded before viewers' eyes. True to form, tears were shed and blood boiled. Certainly the show’s producers will be looking to capitalize on the prestige of the Cinderella role.

“It’s an incredible opportunity,” says Bennett, the company’s prima ballerina who’s been with Ballet West for 13 years and is the stuff of fascination for reality TV producers. Although she’s danced as Cinderella in other productions, dancing the part in the “original” production is exhilarating.

“We are fortunate to be one of only two American companies (Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet being the other), who have acquired permission to perform Sir Fredrick Ashton’s famous version,” says artistic director Adam Sklute. He notes that the ballet, which first premiered in London in 1948, was the forerunning masterpiece from which later “Cinderella” interpretations have borrowed.

The Ashton Foundation fiercely guards its “Cinderella” for a variety of reasons. As a result, the most widely used adaptation in the U.S. is by Ben Stevenson, a protégé of Ashton’s who borrowed heavily from his mentor. But what of those Ballet West fans who have loved the Stevenson version?

“This will be very familiar, including the comically awkward stepsisters danced by men, but this original version is bigger, wittier, more opulent and multilayered. It’s one of the most exciting productions we’ve undertaken,” he says.

Undertaking the lead role of Cinderella comes with unique challenges — which is part of its allure.

“They must be not only technically brilliant, but extremely committed to the theater of it,” says Sklute, adding, “All of the Royal Ballet’s greatest ballerinas of the 20th century have danced this role.”

Katherine Lawrence has experienced some anxiety despite having danced the part in productions past. “The technique is unusual for me — it has an understated quality, even in the port de bras (arm positions),” she says. “I already have one version of this ballet in my body, so I’m fighting against that sometimes as well.”

All three women relish artistically stretching themselves. A few favored moments include Cinderella’s presentation at the ball, when, holding the arm of her prince, she descends a long staircase en pointe while looking straight ahead.

“It’s finally her moment in the sun — and she’s both thrilled and stunned by it,” says Bennett, whose own life experiences provide inspiration. The first time she landed a solo role seems a fitting parallel. “I can relate to that moment a little — the amazing costume, the spotlight, the nervousness, the dreamlike sensation when you walk out on stage. It’s kind of the ballerina’s world,” she says.

A ballerina who’s made it to the top, that is.

Another paramount moment is the kitchen scene after the ball in which Cinderella, dressed again in rags, wakes up from what she believes may have been a wonderful dream.

“Then she finds that slipper in her pocket and everything changes. Not just her face, but also the way she moves, holds herself and executes steps,” says Williams. All agree it’s a magical scene.

There are company-wide challenges in mounting the storybook ballet as well. The vastness of the production may be the greatest.

“We are utilizing the whole company, plus Ballet West II and even many of the academy children,” says Sklute, “And the parts aren’t just courtesans standing around the stage. They’re carefully choreographed roles.”

In Sklute’s estimation, Ballet West, and particularly the three Cinderellas, have devoured the challenge. Not a surprise for a ballet company robust enough to handle cameras zooming in on dancers' every move for weeks on end, watching a spliced narrative of themselves unfold on TV months later, and then agreeing to do it all over again for another season. If Ballet West does have a “breaking point,” we’ve yet to see it.

If you go…

What: Ballet West’s “Cinderella”

When: Feb. 14-17, 20-23 at 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 16 and 23 at 2 p.m.

Where: Capitol Theatre, 50 West 200 South, Salt Lake City

How Much: $19-$75

Tickets: 801-355-ARTS or arttix.org

Visit balletwest.org for more info.

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