Kansas City Ballet dancers Molly Wagner as Cinderella and Anthony Krutzkamp as The Prince in Kansas City Ballet’s 2014 production of “Cinderella” (photo by Steve Wilson)
With specially choreographer solos, the company’s artistic director will highlight the talent of individual dancers in his new vision for an age-old story
The “Cinderella” story is more than a fairy-tale romance, which is why it’s captured imaginations for more than 300 years.
“It’s the story of fortitude in a young woman,” said Devon Carney, artistic director of the Kansas City Ballet. “That whole unexpected process of discovering your inner strength and your ability to take on new situations.”
Carney is creating new choreography for this timeless tale, something he’s wanted to tackle for a long time. And it’s finally happening, during his 10th anniversary as artistic director with the Kansas City Ballet.
Since 2013, this is the fourth full-length ballet he’s created specifically for the company, with “The Nutcracker” (which made its second appearance at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., last November), “Swan Lake” and “Romeo and Juliet,” along with countless smaller works for both the main company and the second company, KCB II. He’s also produced his versions of “Giselle,” “The Sleeping Beauty,” and “Peter Pan” with the Kansas City Ballet.
The company presented “Cinderella” (“Zolushka,” in Russian) in 2014, and savvy fans may notice similarities with the sets and costumes from that production, rented from the Cincinnati Ballet. They have been refurbished and altered a bit, said Carney, making them “bright and colorful.”
In creating this new version, Carney has plenty of experience and inspiration. During his career, he danced in at least three different versions (usually as The Prince), and he’s seen countless other concepts. While his interpretation will stick with the familiar storyline, he’ll incorporate some things he hasn’t seen in other renditions.
Of course, it’s all based on the 1945 score by Sergei Prokofiev. “I can’t even imagine doing this without the Prokofiev score,” Carney said. Early in November, even during “Nutcracker” preparations, he was already revisiting the music, determining his vision for the presentation. The music will be performed by the Kansas City Symphony, conducted by Ramona Pansegrau.
Though conceived in the 20th century, “Cinderella” certainly follows in the lineage of the classical ballets of “Swan Lake” and “The Sleeping Beauty,” both set to music by Peter Tchaikovsky. But Prokofiev didn’t want to just be Tchaikovsky 2.0, and that’s evident in his angular, forward-looking style.
Prokofiev and the Bolshoi Ballet wanted to capitalize on the success of the 1940s’ “Romeo and Juliet.” Though the project started in late 1940, progress was halted by war in the Soviet Union, and it took another five years to be realized. And while there were some issues with the premiere, it soon became a hit as well and entered the canon of ballet.
And while Carney isn’t setting out to revive the original, the vocabulary will be in the “classical idiom.”
“Certainly, there will be classical ballet steps in there, but what’s fun about it is you don’t have to stay within that box,” he said. “You can break loose from that.”
There’s also a lot of humor in this show, especially with the stepsisters and their ridiculous antics. In a season with the dark beauty of “Giselle” at one end and a mixed bill of modern pieces at the other, this ballet is a “lighthearted moment,” he said.
Starting in January, he’ll have six weeks — “full force Cinderella” — to ready the ballet for its premiere in Muriel Kauffman Theatre.
For Carney, creating new work is about the dancers. “You are working with the wonderful artists you have in the room at the moment and creating something that is unique for them as individuals.” He’s already created two different versions of the grand pas de deux but whether he’ll use one of those or come up with something else entirely is still up in the air.
This production is also an opportunity to show off some of the incredible individual talent in the company, with many solo dances. With each individual moment, Carney works with his dancers to bring out the most in each character. “I’m always concerned about the backstory of characters and making sure they are three-dimensional individuals,” he said.
There are many layers to sift through. The elements of the story date back nearly 2,000 years, and artists will each have their own experiences to draw from, too. Most people have felt powerless in a situation, experienced both bullying and the kindness of strangers, or have made a wish for situations to be different.
“What I love about Cinderella is her nature,” said Carney. Even though she is oppressed by her stepfamily, society and class structure, “no matter what she is confronted with she is kind-hearted, and I think that’s a great lesson . . . to not let your environment affect who you are as a person.”
Ultimately, goodness prevails and Cinderella — with a little magical assistance — can make a new story for herself.
Kansas City Ballet presents Devon Carney’s “Cinderella” Feb. 17-19 and 23-26 at the Kauffman Center. For more information and tickets visit kcballet.org.