One of the most famous and beloved of all fairy tales, Cinderella, has been charming generations for decades. This year’s spring production for Fort Wayne Ballet will be a staging of this fairy tale, the first for the company since 2013. Always a popular offering, Karen Gibbons-Brown said there are a few differences between the ballet and the animated version that many know best.
Collaborating with the Phil
“One of the differences is that the stepsisters are comedic figures,” she said. “Many times those roles are performed ‘en travesti,’ with men playing the roles. But in our production they’ll be played by lovely ladies, so they’re not ugly stepsisters, but they do provide a comedic element to the story.”
Although the Fort Wayne Philharmonic plays with Fort Wayne Ballet at only the first three performances of The Nutcracker, the spring production is their full collaboration.
“It is so lovely to work with a live orchestra, especially with the lovely score by Prokofiev,” she said. “Not every community has the luxury of working with an orchestra as we do every year. Andrew Constantine will be conducting this year.”
Also key to the production are the costumes, particularly when they arrive at the ball. One of the most popular elements of both the Cinderella story and of ballet is the beautiful costumes.
“Nan Possemato does such good work with our costumes,” Gibbons-Brown said. “She’s very creative in making new costumes but also very good at giving new life to our older costumes.”
Cinderella also provides a lovely celebration for Fort Wayne Ballet, an homage to their long history, a history almost as long as that of the Cinderella ballet itself.
“People tend to include Cinderella as a classical ballet, but it wasn’t staged until the late 1940s so it’s actually a fairly new ballet in that sense,” she said. “But it was the first full-length ballet that Fort Wayne Ballet staged, and it’s a very important part of our history. When you think about it, it was pretty cutting edge that Fort Wayne Ballet was staging the ballet within 10 years or so of its premiere to the world.”
The production includes four public performances as well as a school performance on Friday. Thanks to the success of a similar performance of The Nutcracker, a sensory-friendly will be performed on Sunday evening.
With that many shows in a short time, there are two casts in place to share roles. The role of Cinderella will be played by Saki Morimoto and Amanda Eve Carrick.
Morimoto, originally from Osaka, Japan, began dancing when she was three and began her study of ballet seven years later. Having joined the Fort Wayne Ballet professional company in 2017, she has appreciated the experience she’s gained so far from home.
“I’ve had many amazing opportunities I’m grateful for, but performing in China was one of best experiences so far,” Morimoto said. “We got to travel to China as part of a cultural exchange trip to sister city Taizhou last fall. It was amazing to be exposed in a different culture, and this trip reminded me how art can bring people together.”
The performances look effortless, but there are tremendous challenges to any role, particularly ones which are already so familiar to audiences.
“For me it is bringing the character to life,” Morimoto said. “Usually the acting is built into the movement and pantomimes in classical ballet, but there is so much more to pay attention to, like posture, angle of the head, focus of eyes. And it’s been a fun challenge to think about what I’m saying with the steps.”
Morimoto comes from another country, but dancers don’t get any more homegrown than John Miller, who is sharing the role of Prince Charming with David Claypool. Miller was a student at the Academy of Fort Wayne Ballet from the age of six and is now a member of the company.
“When we last performed Cinderella, I was a squire,” Miller said. “Side note, I had a cast on my arm under the costume for the performance. When I was the squire, one of my favorite dance teachers, David Ingram, was the prince. It was a great experience to dance alongside someone I respected so much. Now that I am performing the prince this year, I can look back on what I learned from the last time we did Cinderella.”
Tackling the role of the Prince is allowing Miller to grow not only as a dancer but as a performer.
“The thing I enjoy most about this role is definitely developing the character,” he said. “Perfecting the steps themselves is enjoyable, but it pales in comparison to developing the emotion behind a role. The prince in Cinderella is supposed to be young and carefree, but the rest of the character is for me to decide.”
As always, there will be Glass Slipper Parties following the matinee performances, a chance for fans of all ages to enjoy some treats and meet the cast for photo opportunities.
While there’s definitely magic in meeting a Princess and her Prince, there will be plenty of other treats in the performance itself. Gibbons-Brown promises visually pleasing sets and a beautiful carriage, and she credits the production team with helping to provide all the stage magic that accompanies this magical story.
“Cinderella is escapism at its best,” she said. “It has all of the elements of good storytelling.”
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