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Classic Dance, Updated Themes Sweep 'Cinderella' Off Its Feet

Though Michael Corder has been choreographing around the world for more than two decades, it is only with Boston Ballet's new production of "Cinderella" that any of the British-based choreographer's work has reached American shores. And what a splendid debut.

Corder has created a sophisticated, witty version of the famous fairy tale based on expressive dance rather than theatrical pantomime, and the nearly three-hour work is chock-full of traditionally based, beautifully crafted classical movement. Originally created for the English National Ballet last year, "Cinderella" has already received England's two major dance awards, including the 1997 Olivier Award (London's equivalent of the Tony Awards) for Best Dance Production. It is at Boston's Wang Center for the Performing Arts through May 18.

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It takes a lot of courage to do another version of a beloved classic, but Corder's version is no simple restaging of the previous "Cinderellas." There have been numerous balletic treatments of the tale since the Moscow Ballet's original in 1945, with Sir Frederick Ashton's being the most famous. (A former dancer with the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden, Corder debuted with the company in Ashton's production.)

Corder felt compelled to create his own version by the power of Prokofiev's sumptuous score, however, which Corder calls "the greatest three-act ballet ever written," alongside the Tchaikovsky ballet scores. Accordingly, Corder started from scratch in creating his new "Cinderella" by following the scenario outlined in the score, which plays off the passage of time and the change of seasons.

A lean, fairly dark production (design by David Walker), there is no giant pumpkin, no mice turning into coachmen, and the Fairy Godmother doesn't even have a wand. This "Cinderella" is more a tale of love and transformation than the conventional interpretation of victimization and salvation. Cinderella is cast not as a simpering victim but as a dreamer with pluck and spirit, who, through the confidence and maturity elicited by her Fairy Godmother, ultimately takes charge of her destiny.

Boston Ballet's production is first-rate, and opening-night performances were generally polished. As Cinderella, the ethereal Larissa Ponomarenko possessed fluid, expressive use of the upper body that seemed to begin in the small of her back and roll effortlessly out the tips of her fingers. Her clarity and precision were complemented by a beautifully supple use of the arms. She made a stunning entrance to the ball, seeming to float down from the moon (the production's dominant image), trailing yards of gauzy tulle.

Unlike many productions in which the two stepsisters are danced slapstick "en travestie," Corder builds the characters out of the movement itself, casting women in the roles as two different types of prima ballerinas. As the cruel, arrogant stepsisters who tease Cinderella mercilessly, Adriana Suarez and Jennifer Glaze are colorful caricatures, vibrant yet not slapdash. Suarez is fabulous as the sassy, venomous spitfire, and Glaze is delightful as the slightly ditsy one. Their constant one-upmanship gives the ballet its cleverest moments.

As their cohort, Robert Wallace's Dancing Master is commanding and often very funny. Patrick Armand is a dashing Prince, solid and intense. His two young companions, Zachary Hench and Simon Ball, also are impressive in a range of flamboyant leaps and quick footwork. Kyra Strasberg's Fairy Godmother is lustrous as she orchestrates Cinderella's transformation. Other outstanding performances include April Ball's Oriental Princess and Pollyana Ribeiro and Paul Thrussell as the Autumn Fairy and Cavalier.

* Michael Corder's next project is 'Romeo and Juliet' this summer with the Norsk Opera Ballet in Norway.

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