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Wednesday, April 16, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 38.0° F  Overcast and Breezy


The shoe fits in Madison Ballet's satisfying Cinderella

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W. Earle Smith's Cinderella is an ambitious undertaking for the Madison Ballet, and the appreciative audience at Saturday's Overture Hall matinee included many young girls who, in sparkly, twirly dresses, took in the lavish production.

Smith, Madison Ballet's artistic director, is a choreographer with a strong sense of musicality, so he works well with Prokofiev's sometimes challenging score (with its dark tone, it isn't as instantly accessible as some other traditional ballet scores from Tchaikovsky). There are many children in the production, and kudos to Smith for selecting movement that is both appealing and age-appropriate. His vernacular includes iconic Balanchine touches, but these seem more of an homage to the master instead of being derivative.

As all the little girls in the audience already knew, Cinderella (Genevieve Custer Weeks) is being tormented by her stepsisters (Nikki Heffko and Katrina Oeffling, both dancing well and having fun with their roles). After revealing her good nature to her fairy godmother, a luminous Jennifer Tierney, Cinderella is granted a chance to attend the prince's ball.

What the little girls may not have anticipated was a spirited duet between Cinderella and the ash man (Jacob Brooks). She is then transported to a magical forest where fairies perform for her while little butterflies, bees and bugs cavort. Her tattered rags are replaced with voluminous poufs of pink, which looked a bit cumbersome for dancing -- I was relieved when she later returned to rags. She is sent to the ball in a magical coach, but not before 12 very cute hands of the clock dance to remind her of her curfew.

At the ball, the locals parade in their finery before Cinderella's goosebump-inducing entrance. After falling for the mysterious stranger, the prince (Joseph Copley) hunts for her, enlisting the help of local cobblers and fighting through a maze of lovely ladies who all hope to fit into the slipper left behind. When he arrives at Cinderella's household, the stepsisters and stepmother fall all over themselves to get his attention, but Cinderella is there with her matching slipper. The happy couple is whisked away to a garden with some particularly cute flowers and veggies (oh, those radish costumes).

It's nice that Weeks has returned to Madison to dance the lead role, which she alternates with Tierney. While she may not have the breathtaking extensions or the most supple feet, she is a mature and soulful dancer with a sincere acting style. She radiates a kind and humble demeanor, befitting Cinderella. She is secure in her technique, and her upper body and arms are so expressive. Her prettiest dancing comes in the second act, when she is back at home recalling her night at the ball with a softly lilting solo. It may be Smith's loveliest collection of steps as well.

Tierney is pretty and precise in a wisp of a lavender costume. When she performs the winter fairy solo, her phrasing is impeccable, particularly as she luxuriates in the final piqué turn in a series. Her strong technique enables her to play with the music and explore the subtleties of the choreography. Molly Luksik as the spring fairy also does well in her solo. It is a more confident outing than her work in the divertissement at the ball, partnered with Bryan Cunningham. Both seem tentative.

Many of the costumes from Madame Barbara Karinska are gorgeous, and set designer Steven Rubin should be complimented for his intelligent and attractive work. But Karinska sometimes relies too heavily on wings and capes, and perhaps this leads to too much flapping about in the enchanted wood scenes.

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