How the Oklahoma City Ballet puts its own pirouette on Cinderella.
From The Nutcracker to Alice in Wonderland, the Oklahoma City Ballet has a knack for bringing storied classics to the dance stage. For the company’s next performance, audiences will behold a whole new take on one of the most beloved happily-ever-afters of all time, as Cinderella hits the Civic Center Music Hall Feb. 10-12.
Undertaking such a hallowed story is no small feat, but artistic director Ryan Jolicoeur-Nye was confident the company could put a spin that would resonate with audiences young and old — threading a needle that hews close to the legend while presenting something new. “It’s a classic magical fairy tale that everyone knows, and no matter the age, you have a memory from your childhood,” Jolicoeur-Nye said.
While elements of the performance will feel familiar and nostalgic, from the stepsisters to the fairy godmother, the ballet’s showcase will have its own distinct voice. “This version of Cinderella is going to be a world premiere, and it will be my choreography,” said Jolicoeur-Nye, who worked with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic to adjust the classic score composed by Sergei Prokofiev to better set the tone. The classic Cinderella sound has been performed hundreds of times since its debut performance at the Bolshoi Theatre in 1945, but the Oklahoma City version slightly veers from tradition by trimming some tracks from the performance.
The collaboration with the Philharmonic — which plays live during each of the three performances — was also diligently rehearsed to integrate musicians with dancers by slowing the tempo, as most orchestral compositions are typically played faster than performers can dance to.
A full-length classical ballet like Cinderella, Jolicoeur-Nye said, has a lot of facets that need to work together. This includes working with children, as well as a kaleidoscopic crew of different art backgrounds. “The beautiful thing is that it incorporates visual artists, musical artists, dancing artists and sound engineers,” Jolicoeur-Nye said. “It encompasses all of the arts into one large program.”
As to why he chose Cinderella, Jolicoeur-Nye cites its mass appeal to both young and old patrons. “I want to put something in the story, in the choreography, that (everyone) could find something to bite onto,” he said.
In addition to the slower-tempo score and original choreography, this means incorporating humor, magic and the fairy tale aspect of the story. “I’m steering away from the idea of the Disney version of Cinderella in the sense that the visual aspect won’t look much like that at all,” Jolicoeur-Nye noted. He opted instead to put his own stylistic stamp on familiar elements like the comically mean-spirited stepsisters, the true loving Prince and the classic tale of happily ever after.
“When I choreograph a contemporary piece, I sit back and see how the artists interpret my movement, and that’s how I’m approaching Cinderella,” Jolicoeur-Nye said. “How we arrive at that narrative is so much of a collaboration, and the end result is 100-fold more creative and exciting than I had originally planned.”
The timing is right, too. “It’s a great time when the entire family is in town, it’s cold out and not much can be done outside, so going to the theater and seeing some wholesome art as a family seems like a valuable time.”
After Cinderella, the ballet closes out its 2022-2023 season with even more innovation. “We’ll have our Future Voices program, which is a dancer-choreographed in-studio showcase, and an inside look into the future of choreography,” Jolicoeur-Nye explained of the March performances.
Then, closing the season in May is the Shorts program, which Jolicoeur-Nye bills as three iconic performances in one, featuring snippets of Gerald Arpino’s Birthday Variations, George Balanchine’s Western Symphony and Twyla Tharp’s The Golden Section. Ranging from classical to cowboys to contemporary, the season-finale shorts are an apt bow for a ballet with an aptitude for ingenuity.
To learn more about or purchase tickets to any of these upcoming performances, visit okcballet.org.