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Photo Courtesy of Houston Ballet

With a magical and comedic performance, the Houston Ballet brings Stanton Welch’s 1997 unique spin on the classical story of “Cinderella” by adding a modern twist to the enchanted fairy tale. Through a round, small window, those who attend the performance are introduced to the magical world of Cinderella filled with ravishing ballgowns and some unexpected characters like ghosts and zombies.

In this version, Welch’s title character, played by Mónica Gómez, is portrayed as a determined and strong woman who is not waiting to be rescued by the prince. Instead, Cinderella is in control of her life, making her the author of her own destiny and using all her strength and tenacity to battle her cruel stepmother and sisters. In the beloved story, due to the absence of her mother, Cinderella depends on the mythical powers of the Fairy Godmother to help her attend the royal ball and find true love.

However, in this performance, a sublime light takes the audience to a mysterious cemetery where Cinderella finds herself crying over her mother’s grave, devastated after her two stepsisters, Grizabella and Florinda, throw her dress into the fireplace. In this dramatic scene, the story takes an unexpected twist that brings laughter from the crowd when Cinderella reunites with the spirit of her mother, played by Karina González, who guides the ghosts to create a magnificent gown for her.

As the ballet continues into Act II, with the Spring Ball in full swing, Cinderella appears in a grand entrance, and her beautiful dress from her “fairy godmother” entrances everyone. With each step she takes, every dancer moves with her. Everyone on stage was so in sync with each other, creating an atmosphere of awe.

Much like the original fairytale, the Prince, portrayed by Jack Wolff, is stunned by her beauty. However, Cinderella has her eye on someone else in this version; the prince’s secretary Dandini, played by Connor Walsh.

When the two dancers first lay eyes on each other, Gómez and Walsh created an intentional moment that displayed “love at first sight.” As Cinderella and the Prince dance the night away, Wolff’s expressions had the audience laughing during their entire duet. Through this encounter, Cinderella quickly realizes how self-absorbed the Prince is, which makes her fight for Dandini more. Wolff had the audience in stitches as he made exaggerated expressions and danced with every woman at the ball.

This scene was filled with masterful character moments, as it featured Cinderella’s alcoholic father, portrayed by Aaron Daniel Sharratt, dancing with a drink by himself for much of the scene. This small detail allows the audience to see why Cinderella’s stepmother and sisters are so blatantly mistreating her- because her father is not present to stop it. Additionally, it features small details like Gómez frequently wiping her nose- an action that demonstrates Cinderella’s character and how she’s not used to the social etiquette that comes along with being at such a fancy party.

Towards the end of this scene, Cinderella and Dandini are finally able to dance together, and it feels as if time stops for them. The other dancers on stage freeze and the low blue lighting allows the couple to feel as if no one else in the room matters. However, as the story goes, midnight must come and take Cinderella’s beautiful gown from her.

The orchestra was spectacular for this entire performance and hit every beat, emphasizing so many key moments. As the clock hits midnight, the zombies from the grave scene take Cinderella’s garments one by one, as a percussionist simply hits a wood block to mimic the clock ticking. This was such a simple detail, but the lone wood block really brought so much suspense to this scene.

After the enchanting night, Cinderella returns to a crude reality where she continues to tolerate the abuses of her stepmother. However, the prince had ordered his companions to look in the entire kingdom for the owner of the slipper that was left behind. This scene brought the audience to an exciting and colorful journey filled with elegant and festive dances by the beautiful Spanish and Arabian princesses who wished for the opportunity to try the slipper.

As the search continued, Cinderella’s stepsisters stirred the audience with laughter while unsuccessfully trying to fit the slipper to their feet. However, when Cinderella finally tries on the slipper, everyone recognizes her as the mysterious woman from the royal ball and the future wife of the prince.

Yet, Cinderella had different plans for her life, making her reject the prince’s proposal. The big news quickly enraged the prince’s ego and prompted him to fight Dandini.

The loss of the royal connections infuriated the stepmother, leading her to viciously attack Cinderella. Unfortunately, Cinderella’s father suddenly dies as he attempts to protect his daughter. Following this dramatic scene, the audience feels a sense of comfort when Cinderella’s father finally reunites with his beloved first wife in a magical hug, walking together to their eternal love.

As the show closes, there are still unresolved feelings with Cinderella and Dandini. They have a suspenseful duet where Dandini doesn’t recognize her for much of the scene. However, as emotions grow, Dandini finally pulls himself out of his own world and recognizes Cinderella. Gómez and Walsh have incredible chemistry as they move together in sync under a sky full of stars, depicting the emotional reunion.

The cast of “Cinderella” put on an incredible performance of the classic fairytale with a twist. Through laughter and sorrowful moments, the company hit every beat. The orchestra and lighting enhanced the performance and brought it to the next level. All in all, the Houston ballet produced an incredible performance.

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