A review of Pacific Northwest Ballet's "Cinderella," which kicks off the company's 40th-anniversary season at McCaw Hall through Sept. 30, 2012.

Dance review |

When a guest shows up too often, his or her charms may fade just a bit. That may be the case with Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “Cinderella,” back on stage only a year and a half since its last outing. Friday’s opening-night performance, which kicked off the company’s 40th anniversary season, was well cast, wonderfully danced and beautifully designed — it just felt a little familiar. The audience response was warm but subdued (no standing ovation), for a ballet that’s charming rather than dazzling.

Choreographed by Kent Stowell in 1994, “Cinderella” is a quiet, gentle ballet, set to a shimmering score by Sergei Prokofiev and given glorious color in Tony Straiges’ sets and, especially, Martin Pakledinaz’s rainbow of costumes, all of which seem to create their own light. (This production of “Cinderella” is dedicated to the memory of Pakledinaz, who died earlier this year.) Though there are passages that haven’t held up well — the comic scenes with the stepsisters, for example, don’t give the dancers enough to do and feel long — the costumes are always a joy, particularly the misty blue-green tutus of the corps de ballet in Act I, the charmingly pastoral ensembles (complete with antennae) worn by the bugs, and the vivid red-velvet swirl of the guests at the ball.

With so much to look at, it’s possible for the story to get a little lost along the way — but Carla Körbes, who danced the role of Cinderella on opening night, has an uncanny way of making cavernous McCaw Hall seem small and intimate, and of delicately creating a character through subtle expressions and gestures. Her Cinderella, young and innocent, was still shattered by the loss of her mother; Körbes lets us see the poignancy of her memories, and her childlike joy when the Godmother (Carrie Imler, strong yet ethereal) sent her off, bedecked and bejeweled, to the ball. Karel Cruz was dashing as her prince — the man not only can soar through the air, but can really work a cape — and Jonathan Porretta performed with bouncing aplomb as the Jester. An array of students from the PNB School nicely filled this ballet’s charming roles for children, and corps dancer Leta Biasucci, enveloped in an enormous hat, displayed terrific comedic chops as a very dramatic harpsichordist. It was a “Cinderella” filled with pleasures, but a low-key choice to kick off a milestone anniversary season.

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For Friday’s opening night only, the 40th anniversary was honored by a special performance of Jerome Robbins’ “Circus Polka,” with former PNB principal dancer Patricia Barker cracking the whip at 48 very young students. The ballet ended with the smiling ensemble spelling out the number “40.” Following it, the audience was treated to a photo montage of PNB’s first 40 years, accompanied by a stirring rendition of the finale from Stravinsky’s “Firebird” by the PNB Orchestra, and reminding us of many beautiful journeys with PNB. May there be many more.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com