Three weeks is little time to stage a full-length ballet, especially when the dancers are a disparate group that never performed together. That would be the case with Ajkun Ballet Theatre, which draws dancers from across the globe each summer to work in Albany.
The company, under the direction of Chiara Ajkun, did managed to whip together a condensed production for the international cast. But its “Cinderella” looked hurried and unpolished. It was also snipped oddly, which sapped the “Cinderella” magic.
At The Egg on Saturday night, there was some decent dancing by its handful of professionals. Yet too much of the corps de ballet was dancing to its own rhythms, making for a sloppy affair.
More clumsy was choreographer Ajkun’s streamlining of the Prokofiev ballet. She eliminated essential parts of the story. She also slashed long passages that Cinderella and her Prince would normally perform. That’s too bad as Brittany Larrimer, in the title role, was one of the more enchanting of the dancers. She possessed a light port de bras and floated through her pointe work. (This was a pleasure as a good number of the Ajkun dancers had clunky feet.)
Also enjoyable were the stepsisters, danced by Maria Lorena Fichaux and Se-Yong Kim, who were amusing at every turn. When Cinderella was joined by the stepsisters on stage, it was difficult to decide who to watch: Beauty or ghastly funny. Fichaux, as Skinny, bullied Dumpy, danced by Kim, with her windmilling arms and legs. Kim, a man in drag, offset Skinny’s aggressive limbs by constantly keeling over with his/her bottom in the air.
Ajkun’s husband, dancer Leonard Ajkun, was cast as the prince. Though a tad too mature for the youthful Larrimer, Ajkun still cut a regal figure. He was strong too, lifting Larrimer above his head in soaring lifts that accentuated their attraction. Yet his unenthusiastic jumps did not convey the elation one would expect from a prince meeting his true love.
These were forgivable compared to the cuts to the story. Here, the ballet suffered.
Royal footmen did not make an announcement of the ball. Cinderella was not told she would not be going. So there was no buildup to the ball, when the stepsisters and stepmother smugly prepare while Cinderella weeps.
Oddly, the stepsisters did not interact with Cinderella at all. Neither did the stepmother. So it was impossible to sympathize with Cinderella’s loneliness and how her fate was tied to the whims of three cruel women. In short, Cinderella never seemed tortured. But it is these events that make her story an enduring one of redemption.
More distressing is that choreographer Ajkun snipped the climax, where the downtodden Cinderella tries on and fits into the slipper. Instead, we see the stepsisters try and fail. And then suddenly, the prince and Cinderella were living happily ever after. Basically, you had to know the story.
Was Ajkun baffled by the stagecraft it would require to tell the story? It’s unclear. But her artistic choices bled the sweetness and sensitivity from this beloved fairy tale.