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Cinderella Dances Again To An All Rodgers Score
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Pirouetting past Prokofiev, a new full-length ballet of the Cinderella tale was given its world premiere by Canada s Royal Winnipeg Ballet last October. The story was familiar, yet original; the choreography sleek, yet classical; the music, a fresh-sounding amalgam of jazz riffs and swirls, based on the themes of one vintage composer. Val Caniparolis A CINDERELLA STORY is the first full-length ballet drawn entirely from the music of Richard Rodgers.

And it is the belle of the ball.

Theres a new Cinderella in town, hep cats, and shes swingin to the sounds of Richard Rodgers, wrote the Winnipeg Free Press, in a daddy-o lingo inspired by the ballets retro 50s setting. Sizzling...brilliant...a tremendously original achievement. The Winnipeg Sun called it pure entertainment...a classic good time, and warned, If youre not humming Blue Moon all the way home from A CINDERELLA STORY, better check your vital signs...[It] is the sweetest, most infectious sound in town.

For the highly-sought American choreographer Val Caniparoli, the genesis of this balletic fairy tale was a combination of timing and serendipity, growing out of the 2002 Richard Rodgers Centennial. In that year, responding to an invitation from R&H, dance companies and choreographers across the country created new and original dance pieces set to Rodgers music (see HT, Vol. 10, No. 3). One talented group of artists committed works to a charity gala, SHALL WE DANCE?, benefitting Career Transition for Dancers, and Caniparoli was among them. His piece, a torrid tango called NO OTHER (danced to No Other Love) was a sensation, and it brought down the house again a few months later when it was danced on opening night by San Francisco Ballet, where Caniparoli has long been affiliated.

Around that time, Caniparoli received a commission from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet to create a new ballet based on the Cinderella story. However, like a Fairy Godmother laying down the rules, RWB had one catch: Caniparoli had to eschew the traditional ballet score of Sergei Prokofiev, and set his story to the work of another composer. The choice was suddenly obvious: Caniparoli realized that in the music of Richard Rodgers he could find the mood, the romance, the humor and the emotion to tell his own version of Cinderella.

Caniparoli set to work creating his all-Rodgers ballet, developing his libretto in collaboration with Sheryl Flatow. Ideally suited to the task, Flatow is a ballet historian as well as a musical theater expert (and, in 2002, curator of an exemplary Rodgers exhibit at San Francisco s Performing Arts Library Museum ). As Caniparolis guide through the Rodgers canon, Flatow also helped him shape a story that was simultaneously a comment on, as well as a tribute to, the classic fairy tale of CINDERELLA.

The team decided early on not to do the obvious - that is, set their ballet to Rodgers & Hammersteins score for CINDERELLA. But they did hit upon a concept that evoked the beloved R&H musical nevertheless. As chronicled in the previous issue of Happy Talk, the original 1957 live telecast of R&Hs CINDERELLA was a phenomenon that captured the imagination of North America , with 120 million viewers caught in its spell. In Caniparolis ballet, the magic surrounding that broadcast - both literally and figuratively - provides the framework for the story. When Nancy, the ballets heroine, first meets her Fairy Godmother, it is through her trusty television set that the magic-maker appears, and when, at storys end, Nancy and her charming prince, Bob, finally reunite, they settle in together to watch the R&H broadcast on that same black & white TV with its rabbit-ears antenna.

That 1957 telecast of CINDERELLA informs the entire ballet, said Flatow. Television was still a novelty in the 50s, when people would happily sit and stare at test patterns...Along with [our production designers] we wanted this version of CINDERELLA to convey a heightened - and very elegant - sense of reality. Sandra Woodall, the set and costume designer for A CINDERELLA STORY, explained: The model for Cinderella is Audrey Hepburn in SABRINA. Its the world of Givenchy, Dior, Balenciaga - all those couture houses of the 50s...The lines of the house are based on designs by Joseph Eichler, who created beautiful streamlined homes in California in the 1950s and 60s. I also incorporated a sculptural design, Woodall noted, that was inspired by Sputnik.

Though the story was inspired by a Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, the ballets score was derived primarily from the songbook of Rodgers & Hart. As we listened to these witty, sexy, funny, wistful, heartbreaking, elegant, jazzy songs, said Flatow, we realized that they had all the colors and emotions we hoped for in the ballet.

Together Caniparoli and Flatow strung together a collection of songs that formed the musical structure of the ballet. The next step was to transform Caniparolis melodic impressions - which he heard in a blues, jazz and be-bop vernacular - into an orchestral score. In consultation with R&Hs Director of Music, Bruce Pomahac, Caniparoli came to understand exactly how he could make the Rodgers pieces work within the unique vision that was his ballet; in further discussions with the team at RWB, including Music Director and Conductor Earl Stafford, Caniparoli met a local Winnipeg legend: composer, jazz pianist and bandleader Ron Paley.

Paley was given the task of weaving together an array of Rodgers melodies - from the plaintive Blue Moon and sassy The Lady is a Tramp to the waltzes Isnt It Romantic?, The Most Beautiful Girl in the World and the plot-perfect I Didnt Know What Time It Was - into a seamless, full-length ballet score. Working with his own swing band (comprised of saxophones, trombones, trumpets, bass guitar, drums, percussion and two pianos), Paleys version of the Rodgers themes strove to match the swanky and elegant 50s motif established in the ballets story and design. The music of the 50s - from jazz to Latin to be-bop - was so adventurous in its experimentation, noted Paley, and to be able to work in those styles with Rodgers music as the basis has been wonderful to arrange.

Naturally, the Rodgers music and the scintillating syncopations of the Ron Paley Big Band, are the biggest stars of this show, reported the Winnipeg Free Press. Paley has done an awesome job of arranging older, generally lesser-known Rodgers tunes into a musical swirl of smooth and sassy jazz that evokes the playful, romantic and somewhat rascally zeitgeist of the 50s.

A CINDERELLA STORY was given its world premiere by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet on October 20, 2004 . It is a runaway hit, reported the Globe and Mail. On opening night, the delighted audience erupted in cheers after the first act with an ovation usually reserved for a curtain call. The six-performance run at the vast Manitoba Centennial Concert Hall quickly sold out, with plans announced for a tour of Western Canada this spring; RWB plans to have A CINDERELLA STORY in its repertory for the next few years at least, and other ballet companies have already expressed interest in this latest variation on the glass-slippered tale.

For more information on the Royal Winnipeg Ballets premiere production of Val Caniparolis A CINDERELLA STORY, including tour dates and venues, visit www.rwb.org.

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