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Review: Houston Ballet’s ‘Cinderella’ is awe-inspiring, innovative


Houston Ballet Principal Karina Gonzalez performs as Mother in Stanton Welch’s imagining of “Cinderella.”

Courtesy Houston Ballet

By Isabella Regan     3/19/24 10:41pm

Score: ★★★★½

“Cinderella” has been depicted time and time again, with each new director believing they reinvented the classic. Houston Ballet, however, recently brought this well-known story into a completely different light, providing a world with ghosts, clowns, death and a new look at love. 

With added spectacle, this depiction of “Cinderella” dove into the ideas of class, feminism and dignity under the artistic direction of Stanton Welch and the beautiful set and costume designs of Kristian Fredrickson.

The show started the same as the classic fairytale, easy to follow for even the youngest audience members. The set, a beautiful dining room with ominous double doors, allowed for the dramatic entrances of both the Wicked Step Mother and Step Sisters. 

Although the doors do command people’s attention, the first thing an audience member will notice is the painting above the mantle, a beautiful woman who can only be Cinderella’s late mother. The painting led to one of Stanton’s many acts of genius: a touching and heart wrenching dance between Cinderella and her father, the mother’s ghost dancing inside the painting but unable to reunite their broken family. The tragedy of this moment, along with the beauty of the ghost within the painting, created an ethereal and divine silence.

The silence only lasted for a moment, though, until the orchestra’s swells and trills created a vibrant world. The quick pace of the music followed the pacing of the story which (other than the mother’s ghost) followed the fairytale’s traditional plot. The titular character was invited to the ball, found her mother’s dress and had it destroyed in a series of minutes, but it wasn’t until she pulled the dress out of the cinders, that the audience had a true surprise. From deep within the fireplace, a man emerged: Cinderella’s best friend, a chimney sweep. Although he tried to comfort her, all Cinderella wished for was her mother, which led to the show’s next diversion.

The lights went down, the orchestra swelled and suddenly Wortham Center was a graveyard. Different hues of gray and green took over the Brown theater stage, creating an otherworldly environment. Within seconds, the stage flooded with pieces of the afterlife — ghosts with fluid movements, giving the impression that they swam through the air, unbeknownst to the complexities of everyday life. Their tutus had a spider web-like pattern, parachuting as they spun, which allowed the shadows of spiderwebs to take the stage. 

In a creepy and awe-inspiring moment, the ghosts told the true story of Cinderella’s parents — when her mother died, grief led her father to become an alcoholic and lose his dignity in the process. The stunning and heart-wrenching depiction included beautifully calculated streams of light, the spotlight operator switching from red to purple hues. The accuracy of the spot is something to be commended, and even made it a character in itself. Aspects such as these made the technical design just as beautiful as the dancers themselves. 

The show continues with similar twists and turns, adding a completely new love interest, a dash of feminism and some unexpected magic. Clowns, mythological minotaurs, unicorns, Spanish bullfighters and more played into the Houston Ballet’s new story of “Cinderella,” making it worth far more than the cost of the ticket and the trek through Houston traffic.

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