Sunday, April 26, 2009

Cinderella : Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre bids Maribel Modrono adieu

There is a decidedly American suspicion of any private labor involved in mastery of a skill, unless it's for athletics, or a lot of money or fame (or best, both). I hate the backward compliment men will pay ballet, when they comment on how this or that football player learned ballet before putting on the pads.

I braved the acres of mothers and daughters to see the Prokofiev-scored Cinderella at the Benedum last night. Little did I know this was Maribel Modrono's farewell performance. Unmentioned in the program, I figured it out listening to the buzz of the audience around me.

They praised her roles over the last 15 years dancing in Pittsburgh. One matron in black and white sequins told her friend how she would make sure she got tickets to see the Maribel-danced stagings of any production, haranguing the ticket office for Maribel nights.

The house at 90+ percent capacity, we got a confection of glitter and tulle that barely bested the ribbons and curls on the girls of every age in the audience. A scrim of forest invited us into the fairy tale.

Ballet presents narrative as a series of gestures. It predates film in ways that theater does not. Plot is presented as a series of images. Broad strokes of costume mark out characters territory quickly. The audience 'gets' the drag queen stepsisters immediately, the weak father, Cinderella's delicate beauty, in the opening scene.

The audience knows the backstory. Minimal set pieces and costuming allow each dancer to quickly enter the narrative's archetypal spaces. Then the audience can focus on the dancing, wonder at the the complicated series of gestures presented by each dancer's particular architecture.

The set describes narrative turning points. Cinderella's chair at the foot of the hearth, the announcement of the supernatural with dried ice, the clock motif. This allows the audience to bask in Maribel's grace and emotive power, at the Jester's endurance of the Stepsisters' haranguing, at the amazing Corps du Ballet's dancing in all that blue and white lace. Oh, and those unfortunate firefly costumes.

Gestures between dancers articulate their relationships. Cinderella's courtship of the Prince presented with a particular order of gestured language between the pair at every meeting, underlined by Prokofiev's motifs.

Ballet implies. It operates in a particular vocabulary of nonverbal communication, like the best film.

The plot serves only to provide a framework for extraordinary presentations of embodied language, allowing the dancers their moments of rest, their necessary clothing changes.

Aside - How did Maribel switch out to her Cinderella frock, so quickly, once she fled the ball? I don't know. But the love she shared with her audience at her extended curtain - and the flowers flung at her from the foot of the stage - told me an audience lost their beloved last night.

Best wishes for her on her journey.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theater

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