With new and expressive choreography by Paul Vasterling - set to Prokofiev's timelessly beautiful 1944 score - Nashville Ballet opens its 26th season with a sumptuous remounting of Cinderella which captures, once more, the sheer artistry of the company's dancers while giving audiences exactly what they want when they go to the ballet: flights of fancy wrapped up in a gorgeously adorned, artistically crafted package.
Exhilarating and uplifting, inspiring and visually stunning, Nashville Ballet's Cinderella shows the depth of the company's roster of dancers and offers a glimpse toward the future with the inclusion of students from The School of Nashville Ballet, a bevy of excited and wide-eyed youngsters who are obviously thrilled to be performing alongside their dancing idols and teachers.
Vasterling's skillful choreography for the piece allows his dancers to showcase their immense talents, focusing on their strengths as individuals and, in so doing, spotlighting the company's overall cohesiveness with a sense of elan and style. Cinderella further exemplifies Vasterling's tremendous versatility and artistic focus: The choreography is fluid, almost poetic in its retelling of the time-honored tale of the orphaned girl who finds redemption in the magic of love as she overcomes the obstacles of her difficult circumstances. Yet despite these weightier attributes, Vasterling infuses Cinderella with a sense of whimsy and flashes of comic brilliance due to his knowledgeable grasp of the company's estimable abilities and his task at hand.
Nashville Ballet's prima ballerina Sadie Bo Harris assumes the title role with confidence, displaying her talents with an easy grace that endears her to the audience. Her subtle yet awe-inspiring transformation from scullery maid to ballroom beauty is palpably felt as she executes her turns beautifully, showing off her exquisite line with each movement, creating a memorable Cinderella in the process. Harris' luminous beauty allows her facial expressions to telegraph so many meanings of so many moments to her legions of adoring fans.
Harris is paired with the handsome and dashing Jon Upleger as the rakishly charming Prince of the kingdom and together they are the very embodiment of romantic fantasy, the stuff of childhood dreams brought vividly to life. Upleger's athletic and confident partnering of Harris perfectly matches her artistry with studied restraint, his superb performance as a dancer underscored by his commanding presence as an actor.
The ballet's romantic bent notwithstanding, it is perhaps Vasterling's mastery of comedy that truly sparks the audience's imagination in Cinderella. Perhaps that comic sensibility is most evident through the characters of the Ugly Stepsisters (although, truth be told, there are plenty of laughs to be found throughout), danced by Mark Allyn Nimmo and Eddie Mikrut, two good-looking and virile young men performing en pointe to justifiable acclaim and the gasps, oohs and ahhs of the assembled audience. Nimmo is wonderfully over-the-top as the more flirtatious and coquettish of the two, while Mikrut is haughty and imperious as the other. Playing off each other with abandon, Nimmon and Mikrut show their almost miraculous ability to dance en pointe that allows them to tower above the rest of the dancers in highly entertaining fashion.
Caylan Cheadle, lovely and authoritative as Cinderella's wicked stepmother, creates a memorable characterization with her performance (even while looking years younger than her daughters), and Christine Rennie adds to her lengthy and rather amazing list of Nashville Ballet roles with her lyrical interpretation of Cinderella's Fairy Godmother. Both women dance wonderfully, showing off their skill and training in the process.
As the four fairies who accompany the Fairy Godmother and bring Cinderella the requisite elements needed to complete her transformation into a princess of royal bearing, Mollie Sansone, Alexandra Meister, Andrea Vierra and Kayla Rowser perform to great effect, eliciting some of the evening's loudest ovations. Sansone's lovely evocation of the spring fairy is liltingly light, with an almost effervescent quality, while Meister's summer fairy seems as warm as the sun's rays. Vierra's jewel-toned autumn fairy gives a sense of the changing seasons as assuredly as Kayla Rowser (as the winter fairy) dances a coolly glamorous performance to complete the quartet.
As their cavaliers, company veterans Christopher Butler, Damian Drake, Brendon LaPier, Christopher Stuart and Judson Veach, along with new company member Kevin Terry, provide the women with expert partnering while showcasing their own ample talents.