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Revamped take on Cinderella closes out Ballet Victoria's season

Dance troupe has a bit of fun with Sergei Prokofiev’s 1945 masterpiece
Dancers play the roles of evil stepsisters in Ballet Victoria’s production of Cinderella, which runs Friday and Saturday at the Royal Theatre. WENDI DONALDSON LAIRD

ON STAGE: Cinderella

Where: Royal Theatre, 805 Broughton St.

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, 2 p.m. (May 20 and 21)

Tickets: $16-$82.50

For the final event of its 2021-2022 season, Ballet Victoria is revisiting a familiar classic with purpose and passion.

Cinderella, which runs Friday and Saturday at the Royal Theatre, comes just two months after its previous production, Heart Strings, and will close Ballet Victoria’s season — portions of which were impacted greatly by the pandemic — by offering a twist on a longstanding fan favourite.

“It felt like we were back [with Heart Strings] and things were moving forward, so that gave us a little bit more motivation with Cinderella,” said Paul Destrooper, the artistic and executive director of Ballet Victoria. Nearly a dozen characters appear in Cinderella, which gives the dancers a chance to focus on fun, he added.

“The workload is really spread throughout the whole company. That gives freedom to the artists.”

One of Destrooper’s first productions after arriving at Ballet Victoria was a version of Cinderella staged in 2008. This production (titled Cinderella at the Fairy Tale Ball) gave Sergei Prokofiev’s 1945 classic a modern updating, and was highlighted by a sense of playfulness which has since become a staple of productions during his time with the company.

Destrooper’s version of Cinderella has been tweaked yet again. The Fairy Godmother is now a fashionista modelled after Edna Mode from Pixar’s Oscar-winning animated film, The Incredibles, one of many characters from outside sources Destrooper wrote into the upcoming production.

“For the kids, it’s great,” he said, pointing out that Disney princesses Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Aurora from Sleeping Beauty and Jasmin from Aladdin also have cameo appearances.

“But for the dancers it’s also great, because these fairy tale characters who are in the classical repertoire are very technically demanding, very musical. It adds a little bit of surrealism.”

Alternate takes on classic fairytales is part of the culture in Belgium, where Destrooper was born. With that in mind, he also added a Charlie Chaplin-esque scamp, whose impromptu appearances throughout Cinderella add to the dreamlike atmosphere. “It’s not key to the story, but I love putting all of these little things in there.”

Destrooper said he’s careful not to mess with a good thing — which, in the case of Prokofiev’s masterpiece, is one of the most revered ballets of all-time. “You want to bring a little bit of fresh air and innovation to a classical ballet, without ever dumbing-down the technique and artistry. That’s important. But we’re making it a little bit more accessible, more populist, I guess, which is a dirty word in the arts. But it gives an unexpected side to the ballet.”

Ongoing cultural references — to cinema, to dance from multiple cultures — imbue the work withnew depth, he added.

“I love the ability of the dancers to act, and being able to convey an idea, a theme, without any words, simply with their bodies. It’s a Marcel Marceau [mime] kind of thing. It involves the whole body, not just the face.”

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