PNB's Cendrillon: Cinderella With a Twist

PNB ushers in a new take on Cinderella by the team that wowed Seattle with Roméo et Juliette
  • Noelani Pantastico (left), pictured in a Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo’s Cendrillon production, began as a PNB student at age 14. She returned to Seattle recently and will star in PNB’s Cendrillon
Noelani Pantastico (left), pictured in a Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo’s Cendrillon production, began as a PNB student at age 14. She returned to Seattle recently and will star in PNB’s Cendrillon

If you ask local dance fans to name their favorite ballets in recent years, their answer will undoubtedly include the 2008 U.S. premiere of modern French choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette at Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB). 

The work is masterful and sublime, with its sparse sets and its unparalleled portrayal of love in all its incarnations, from flirtatious first looks to full-blown ecstasy. Seriously. Mention Maillot to a balletomane and you’re apt to elicit a from-the-gut swoon. 

PNB artistic director Peter Boal admires Maillot’s way of completely reinventing a well-known ballet, drilling deep into our emotional core. So when PNB unveils its second Maillot work in February, Cendrillon, his reimagining of Cinderella, don’t expect clichéd emotions, pumpkins turning into glass carriages, or mice suddenly becoming seamstresses. This Cinderella is a grande jeté away from being Disneyesque. No glass slipper, for example—in this very contemporary version, bare feet are dipped into a bowl of glitter.

“The way he’s laid out the ballet is very touching,” says Noelani Pantastico, who is something of a local expert on Maillot. After dancing in that legendary 2008 Roméo et Juliette, she spent seven years dancing with Maillot’s world-famous Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, including a previous production of Cendrillon, before returning to PNB last year as a principal dancer.

Cendrillon opens with Cinderella in mourning, holding a dress that belonged to her late mother (who returns as the fairy godmother to watch over the young girl). The entire first act, Pantastico explains, embraces the notion of loss and grief from both the girl’s perspective and the father’s. The father has a much bigger role here than is typically found in other versions. “Cendrillon is not a cartoon. There’s a real person in there,” Pantastico says about a role with which she has fallen in love.  

Though she’s glad to be back—at PNB and in Cendrillon—Pantastico doesn’t regret her time in Monte Carlo. “I wanted to make a change,” she explains. “I was feeling a bit lost.” She admits she was a good dancer when she left Seattle, but she feels that under Maillot’s instruction, she’s emerged into a more thoughtful dancer—an actual artist.

Image by: Marie-Laure Briane, courtesy of Les Ballets de Monte Carlo
Maillot’s take on the Cinderella story has no pumpkins or mice, but it does have a Tim Burton-esque flair

“There’s so much depth in his work,” she says. And for a dancer, it’s always about finding the intention behind his steps. That isn’t always easy to do, especially when the character leaves you cold—as Cendrillon did, at first, for Pantastico. “I thought she was flat,” she says. “I thought she didn’t dance very much. I had some terrible assumptions.” But then Pantastico recognized the power in the look and feel of the ballet: a character who daydreams, who wears a simple brown dress, hair loose, barefoot throughout to show how grounded and humble she really is.

In Cendrillon, Cinderella evolves from being a tormented girl to living happily ever after with her prince. Her stepsisters, meanwhile, are self-absorbed, wrapped in bandages because they’re recovering from plastic surgery. The stepmother is racy. The prince is bawdy and appears to have a serious foot fetish. The fairy godmother is sleek and shimmery, with a coiled hairdo and a skirt Tim Burton would appreciate. (The set, lighting and costume design are all by the same team that produced Roméo et Juliette.)

“I’m really looking forward to the public’s reaction,” Boal says. “Cendrillon is very dear to Noe. She has lived and breathed this work for countless rehearsals and performances over many years. To see an artist of Noe’s caliber in a signature role will be a rare treat for all of us.” 

There’s no question PNB has forged ahead into more contemporary territory under Boal’s tenure. Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette, he says, completely broke the mold for Seattle and exceeded projected ticket sales. It’s adored by audiences every time it’s performed. Boal hopes audiences take to this new Maillot production in the same way. Says Pantastico about Cendrillon, “It is Maillot’s best work.” 

Pacific Northwest Ballet, February 3–February 12,

Sundance FiIm Festival to Screen Seattle-Specific Short Film Series

Sundance FiIm Festival to Screen Seattle-Specific Short Film Series

Visit Seattle and SundanceTV collaborate on five sense-based films about the city
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Five film shorts featured on SundanceTV highlight unique visions of the Emerald City.

The famous Sundance Film Festival kicks off this week in Park City, Utah, and among the multitude of movies on view are five short films about Seattle. The mini-movies are a project called "Five by Five," a collaboration between Visit Seattle and SundanceTV, and will screen next Tuesday, accompanied by a panel with the filmmakers which include two Pacific Northwest locals. 

The directors were tasked to examine Seattle through the five senses—sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch—and each was assigned a specific sense for cinematic exploration. In vignettes that run between roughly four and seven minutes long, from animation to studies in quiet observation, the series features the filmmakers’ unique approach at capturing the essence of Seattle.

Who are the star directors behind the films? Get to know the five filmmakers and their Seattle-focused masterpieces below. 

Filmmaker: Clea DuVall
Basic stats: Los Angeles-based actress, writer, producer and director
Fun facts: DuVall’s filmmaking debut, The Intervention played this past spring at the Seattle International Film Festival; she had roles on the 2003-2005 HBO TV show Carnivàle and 1999's Girl, Interrupted.
Film: Taste
Sense: Taste
Synopsis: One of Seattle’s favorite things: food. Seattle’s relationship to its natural surroundings is explored as DuVall chronicles the farm-to-counter journey of one of the city’s most beloved treats. 

Filmmaker: Drew Christie
Basic stats: Seattle-based filmmaker and animator
Fun facts: Christie has been creating films and animations since age five; his work appears on the Showtime show Billions, in No Depression quarterly and many other outlets. 
Film: Scent of a Sasquatch
Sense: Smell
Synopsis: It’s essentially the (unofficial) mascot of Seattle: the Sasquatch. In Christie’s animated short, the creature’s acute sense of smell guides her on a tour of the city’s many offerings: forests and wildlife, breweries, coffee roasters and shorelines.

Filmmaker: Ian Cheney
Basic stats: Brooklyn-based documentary filmmaker, cinematographer and producer
Fun facts: Has earned a Peabody Award, a Heinz Award, and a 2017 Emmy nomination; is a cofounder and former member of the board of directors for the nonprofit organization FoodCorps.
Film: Touch of Seattle
Sense: Touch
Synopsis: Even with the towering skyscrapers and endless construction, we still cherish Seattle for being our green city. Celebrating the raw beauty of the forests, Cheney paints a quiet portrait of the city’s first skyscrapers that dwellers can experience with their own hands.

Filmmaker: Martha Stephens
Basic stats: Kentucky-raised filmmaker, now an Olympia resident
Fun facts: Great-niece of writer Jesse Stuart; her third film Land Ho! premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was purchased by Sony Pictures Classics.
Film: All at Sea
Sense: Sight
Synopsis: Stephens creates a fictionalized account of a moment in Seattle icon Bruce Lee’s life; though struggling, Lee’s view of the Seattle skyline from the Puget Sound helps him again find balance.

Filmmaker: Terence Nance
Basic stats: Dallas-raised artist, musician and director
Fun facts: His first feature film, An Oversimplification of her Beauty, premiered in SFF 2012’s New Frontier section and was also screened as part of the 2012 New Directors/New Films Festival in NY.
Film: Jimi Could Have Fallen from the Sky
Sense: Sound
Synopsis: We around these parts know a little about Johnny Allen (aka Jimi) Hendrix. But Nance explores a little-known fact about the music legend: that he knew how to skydive. The film explores what this skill meant for the figure’s life.