The Wilmington Concert Association is among the most venerable arts presenters in the Port City. Each year they offer a subscription series with some of the most prestigious performers to be heard here. Their closing event for this season brought the Moscow Festival Ballet to the stage at UNCW’s Kenan Auditorium. The Moscow Festival Ballet was established in 1989 and has since toured widely in Europe and Asia, as well as in the U.S. With leading dancers from the great tradition of Russia’s Bolshoi and Kirov Ballet companies, they embody classic ballet of the highest artistic standard.

The evening was devoted to Cinderella by Sergei Prokofieff. The story is a somewhat quirky take on the old tale, with the stepmother and sisters comic rather than evil, a bit laughable even as they work at being mean. Prokofieff’s music is by turns yearningly expressive, sharply rhythmic and, in some of the scenes with the sisters and stepmother, virtually slapstick in its humor. This is one of his most appealing scores, wedding melodic invention with balletic conventions and fresh yet accessible 20th century harmony.

The dancing impressed throughout. The stepmother, deliberately overdone, was wonderfully vain in her silly shoes. This role was danced by Evgeniy Rudakov, who as a man (it’s commonplace for the role to be danced in travesty) looked and acted most convincing as the Stepmother who was made up to be distinctly uglier than her two daughters. Cinderella’s stepsisters didn’t look particularly ugly but carried their parodistic parts with broad humor. Their quasi Irish jig in the third act was very amusing.

The jester is also part of the humor of the story. Danced with noteworthy verve by Slava Tapkharov, he was full of impressive gymnastics which brought entertainment each time he appeared.

The opposite personality of the story is embodied in part by the Fairy Godmother, performed by Olga Gudkova. She brought forth the beauty of classical dance, in which this company so wonderfully excels: perfection of line and form. Her first appearance especially had magic in it, as she appeared with her fairy princesses. Her ending apotheosis was another place where beauty and balance of form, along with expressiveness, were simply to be experienced. The fairy group, ravishingly adorned in translucent dresses, which in their first scene shifted color as the seasons unfolded, brought real atmosphere to the story.

The core of the tale is of course Cinderella herself, performed by Maria Kluyeva, along with the Prince, danced by Konstantin Marikin. Here is where the emotional climaxes of the work are reached. Cinderella brought magnificent, seemingly effortless en pointe dancing to her part, with a perfection of line that could only be envied. The Prince shared some of that expressive character in their wonderful pas de deux at the ball, as well as at the end when they are finally united. He also had some of the most impressive physical feats in the piece, with leaps, turns, and lifts of the utmost virtuosity. The sheer technical command of Russian ballet was on full, world-class display here.

Mention should also be made of Viktoria Baldanova, who danced one of the Mauritanian ambassadors. Even in a context where exceptional bodily flexibility is the norm, her poses and shifts were impressive.

The surrounding aspects of the production were more pedestrian. Sets were functional, perhaps a necessity on the small stage at Kenan. Changes were few, engineered in good part by a curtain brought down to bifurcate the stage. The lighting achieved some of what the sets did not, changing color and tone to create different atmospheres and redefine the space which was otherwise visually fairly static. The cumbersome steam machine which heralded the Fairy Godmother didn’t contribute to the atmosphere, but at least the noise went by quickly.

The quality of the recorded sound was a bit wooly, not fully vibrant. Added to that, the score was substantially abridged, which created some discontinuity in the flow of the story. The abridgements unfortunately took out some of the most expressive, thoughtful music, sections that give Cinderella her emotional range as a character. This reduced the scope of her role as well as of Prokofieff’s wonderful score. Perhaps this was done so as not to keep the audience out too late from an 8:00 p.m. starting time, but a better compromise was probably possible.

Those reservations expressed, the viewer came away impressed with the power and beauty of the dance, and the high artistry of the Moscow Festival Ballet. The hearty audience reaction showed that their splendid performance was amply appreciated.