‘Cinderella’ Graces Orpheum Stage

JONATHAN DEVIN | Special to The Memphis News

Long before Disney created the pumpkin carriage, the dancing mice or the well-known lyrics “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo,” there was Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet “Cinderella,” which will take the stage for Ballet Memphis.

Ballet Memphis will restage Sergei Prokofiev’s “Cinderella” – with Julie Niekrasz as Cinderella and Travis Bradley as the Prince – April 14-15 at The Orpheum Theatre Memphis. (Photo: Courtesy of Basil Childers)

Choreographer Steven McMahon said audiences can expect more in-depth relationships from his version of the ballet, but there’s still plenty of magic as well. The ballet will be performed at The Orpheum Theatre Memphis on April 14 and 15.

“It’s definitely magical, there’s the fairy godmother,” he said. “But I tried to look at the relationships between mothers and daughters.

“Cinderella has no parents. I think her mother and her father are dead and her father had remarried at some point. So there’s a portrait of Cinderella’s mother that is hidden. When she’s on her own she reveals it and remembers her mother.”

There’s also the dynamics of the stepmother and stepdaughters, and the relationship between Cinderella and the godmother, whom McMahon suggests might even be Cinderella’s real mother. Finally there is the dynamic between the mothers at the ball and their daughters, whom they have brought to present to the prince. McMahon choreographed “Cinderella” for Ballet Memphis in 2009 but said this version is greatly revamped.

“I kept the same structure, but when you get out there as a choreographer, the more experience you get, you get the opportunity to go back and rework it and make it better than it was the first time,” he said.

One thing he changed from Prokofiev’s traditional telling of the story is a scene in which the godmother presents to Cinderella four female dancers each representing one of the four seasons. Instead, the four dancers will reflect Cinderella’s personal qualities.

“I decided to have the godmother bring in a mirror to show Cinderella her four virtues that she has inside herself, which are the reasons she deserves to go to the ball,” McMahon said.

One thing he kept the same from his earlier production is the dancer playing Cinderella, company member Julie Niekrasz, who said that Ballet Memphis’ focus on storytelling gives her a chance to stretch her talent as actress and dancer.

“I have found in the dance world, you either have acting skills or you don’t,” Niekrasz said. “When I’m alone on stage, I find it much easier to tap into that because I do feel like I’m all alone even though there’s 600 people watching. That’s when I feel the most free. I feel it the most onstage in performance.”

Rather than playing Cinderella as a damsel in distress, Niekrasz said she wants to play her as a dreamer, someone whose hard work rewards her in the end.

“Eventually her dreams come to fruition, which is what’s so magical about it,” Niekrasz said.

And Niekrasz is no stranger to hard work herself.

“We have steps that we have to know and we rehearse them,” she said. “My partner even knows my steps, but we have to make it look like it’s happening for the first time.

“That’s kind of a challenge – you have to know your choreography, but it has to be a little spontaneous. You have to have the freedom on top, in your face and arms. We don’t talk, but you have to act.”

Because the ballet takes place in three acts, there will be no other short performances accompanying “Cinderella.” Prokofiev’s score will be played from recordings. All 22 company members will perform the ballet.

“I think everybody has felt like the underdog at some point, everybody has been alone,” McMahon said. “But then everybody will at some point have something really wonderful happen to them because they deserve it.”