Cinderella for a New Era, Staged by Alberta Ballet

 In collaboration in the studio. Left to right: Alberta Ballet's Jennifer Gibson, Hayna Gutierrez, Christopher Anderson and Luna Sasaki.  Photo Credit: Paul McGrath

In collaboration in the studio. Left to right: Alberta Ballet's Jennifer Gibson, Hayna Gutierrez, Christopher Anderson and Luna Sasaki.  Photo Credit: Paul McGrath

The tale of Cinderella has entranced the popular imagination for generations – the fairy godmother, the glass slippers, the enchanted pumpkin, and the dashing prince. The story is pure escapism. Cinderella inhabits a world in which good prevails and hardships can be overcome with a little magic and a special pair of glass slippers.

 

Alberta Ballet is set to bring Cinderella to the stage for a limited run, opening March 14 in Calgary and March 22 in Edmonton. The work is the first full-length ballet from Alberta Ballet Associate Artistic Director Christopher Anderson.

 

“Everyone knows the story of Cinderella – there’s a lot of plot so it’s a quick-moving production,” says Anderson. He sticks close to Charles Perrault’s 1697 version of the fairytale, with laughably wretched stepsisters and stepmother, a pumpkin carriage that carries Cinderella away, and a deep sense of vindication when Cinderella triumphs in the end.

 

The lively pacing of this plot-driven story makes this ballet a great opportunity for young families and first-time ballet goers. Devoted supporters of the ballet will also enjoy the production: Anderson insists the show’s no slouch when it comes to classic technique.

 

Discerning audiences should pay particular attention to the show’s namesake character. Anderson approaches this oft-told story with a new and improved version of Cinderella herself. Here is a character who is no longer the victim of fate, and she rises to become the master of her own story.

This Cinderella is not someone who is downtrodden. Perseverance, an optimistic spirit, and her openness to positivity shape her situation. Cinderella’s triumph becomes as much her own doing as caused by any intervening magic.
— Alberta Ballet's Christopher Anderson
 

Anderson enlisted three of Alberta Ballet’s top dancers to take on this spunky role. Jennifer Gibson, Hayna Gutierrez, and Luna Sasaki have each been dancing with Alberta Ballet for at least five years, and they come to the production having danced some of ballet’s most beloved roles.

 

“Each of these dancers can do any step. Their strength is incredible,” Anderson says. With such firepower behind the production, audiences will be treated to highly technical ballet, executed flawlessly.

 

But technical proficiency is just the beginning.

 

“As we started creating this ballet, we realized that there are lots of moments that are not just technical, but also emotional. The emotion carries the story,” says Gibson, who has danced with the Alberta Ballet for nine years.

 

Compared to a character like The Nutcracker’s Klara, Cinderella is incredibly complex. The choreography strives to mirror Cinderella’s complicated emotional life: her grief at losing her family, her dissatisfaction with her difficult life, and her hope for a better future. When Cinderella dances among family, she’s timid and shy. On her own, her eyes lift and the port de bras becomes expansive and downright hopeful.

 

In preparation for the ballet, Anderson and the dancers workshopped the role together, scrapping steps that don’t serve the story, discussing Cinderella’s motivations, and searching for her newfound inner fire.

 

“It’s nice to have other dancers in the studio, not because you want to imitate – we’re all very different dancers – but because it helps you learn your character,” says Gutierrez, currently in her eighth season with the company.

 

Together, they strive to find the right balance of vulnerability and strength and hope to express these emotions through dance and theatricality while executing Anderson’s challenging choreography. The result is a bold model for a female ballet lead and an aspirational model for the 21st century heroine.

Cindy Soderstrom