By Paul Horsley
Yes, the Kansas City Ballet will be mustering enormous forces for its production of Victoria Morgan’s magnificent Cinderella that opens here May 9th, with the 28-member company, the six apprentices of KCB II and some 90 children from the Ballet School. But at the center of this maelstrom is something audiences might not initially appreciate: Live music played by the Kansas City Symphony in the Muriel Kauffman Theatre pit. In this case, remarkably, it’s the first-ever local live performance of Prokofiev’s peerless full-length 1945 score. And that comes about because of the Ballet’s longtime conviction that dance is not complete without living, breathing musicians involved whenever possible. “I don’t know if Kansas City is aware of how lucky we are to have live music, and a wonderful orchestra playing for the Ballet,” says KCB music director Ramona Pansegrau, one of the hardest-working people I know. “Because that’s not always the case, and it’s becoming less and less common around the country.”
The reason, of course, is cost: Rentals and royalties for ballet scores can cost as much as a new car. But it’s worth it, says Ramona, who as the Ballet’s MD (since 2006) leads rehearsals at the piano, prepares scores and parts, and conducts the performances herself. The give-and-take between musician and dancer has been a foundation of dance since its beginnings, she says. “It should be spontaneous,” Ramona says. “It should be about performing together, creating a whole unit that can’t be separated. You shouldn’t be able to say, ‘Oh, how wonderful, you followed the dancers.’ … It should be, ‘They danced beautifully, and it sounded wonderful. … It’s a unit that you want to create.”
This same flexibility is the reason why Ramona also plays the piano reduction of the score live for rehearsals as well. “I’m always aware of where the dancers are spatially, of what the steps are going to be, and if there’s a problem coming up,” she says. “Because you don’t know, and it’s that “don’t know” part of it that makes the spontaneity of the live performance so wonderful. That’s what gives the audience those ‘Ah!’ moments. And that’s why you go to the theater, that’s why you go to the ballet. You want something that makes you catch your breath, brings tears to your eyes. And that happens spontaneously, it doesn’t happen as a planned moment.”
Victoria, who created her Cinderella for the Cincinnati Ballet she has led for 16 years (and where KCB artistic director Devon Carney was associate AD before coming to KC) agrees about this music’s special nature. “It is a joy to choreograph to such amazing music,” she says. “Prokofiev is simply one of those composers that ignite movement.”
“Ballet music is wonderful music,” Ramona says. “It’s not all schlocky waltzes: Beautiful, legendary pieces of music were composed specifically for dance. And when you hear the Symphony play in Helzberg Hall, and then just walk over to the other theater, it’s the same people playing, and equally as wonderfully.” This Cinderella, composed a half-century after the ballet scores of Tchaikovsky that Prokofiev so loved, is full of riches that one finds in very few ballet scores, she adds, with remarkable extremes of range and peculiar combinations of instruments—“like contrabassoon and piccolo, for example, which for some reason works. After all these years of working with this score, I’m still amazed at the ways that he gets chord progressions to resolve.”
Prokofiev’s score evokes two different worlds, she says, “the mundane world that Cinderella lives in, stark and gloomy, with music to reflect that, and the magical world … with the fairies, the seasons, the ball. When the Fairy Godmother comes in you get this beautiful melody that comes out of the bleakness of Cinderella’s life. It’s so refreshing, so fun musically to make the one dark and gloomy and despairing, and the other magical and joyous.”
Cinderella runs from May 9th through the 18th at the Kauffman Center. Call 816-931-2232 or see kcballet.org.
To reach Paul Horsley, performing arts editor, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Facebook (paul.horsley.501).