By SIOBHAN BURKE, New York Times
Fairy Tale Ballet, Tailored for Short Attention Spans
Monday March 3, 2014
For all their childlike wonder, most story ballets don’t cater to the average kid’s attention span. With its long-running Once Upon a Ballet Series, New York Theater Ballet consolidates the classics into hourlong productions for the under-10 crowd and puts parents’ minds at ease: Yes, your children will be able to sit through this show. And in inevitable moments of boredom, fidgeting is acceptable.
Murmurs of restlessness and delight mingled with taped excerpts from Prokofiev’s score on Sunday at Gould Hall, where the company was reviving its “Cinderella,” a staple of its repertory since 1991. With choreography by Donald Mahler and costumes by Sylvia Taalsohn Nolan (the resident costume designer at the Metropolitan Opera), this rendition is appropriately colorful, brisk, orderly and polite, given its target audience. (Two cross-dressing stepsisters, danced by Mitchell Kilby and Michael Wells, add just a hint of subversion.)
The members of New York Theater Ballet gave gracious, down-to-earth performances at the second of three Sunday matinees, with an unforced charm exemplified by the leading couple: Elena Zahlmann as Cinderella, and Steven Melendez as the Prince. In the opening scene, Ms. Zahlmann never exaggerated her dreariness or dreaminess, easing naturally between the two as she envisioned herself at the ball, a broom as her makeshift partner.
Over at the palace, a potbellied Majordomo (Dan Renkin) elicited giggles in his role as the jolly, bumbling host. Between looking for and losing each other amid the whirlwind of guests, Ms. Zahlmann and Mr. Melendez made an elegant pair.
But the most endearing and engaging part of the show happened before all of that, during a prelude led by the company’s artistic director, Diana Byer. In an effort to acquaint young audiences with the behind-the-scenes work of putting on a ballet, Ms. Byer invited her animated production manager, Pepper Fajans, to demonstrate the meticulous art of marking the stage to indicate where props and dancers should go. This also served as a basic math lesson, as Mr. Fajans divided the floor into halves and quarters with bits of colored tape.
Ms. Byer then ushered out five “dancing examples” (children from New York Theater Ballet’s school) to show how this task helps to organize bodies in a given space. My 8-year-old companion never seemed more enthralled than when other kids her age arrived onstage, dutifully arranging themselves into a diagonal, a triangle, a square. Their simple, swift and spirited performance, more relatable than any fairy tale, was hard to top.