MUSIC / DANCE : 'Cinderella' Decked Out--After All, It's Her Party

Zan Dubin covers the arts for the Times Orange County Edition.

When Kent Stowell decided to choreograph a new production of "Cinderella," he looked around and found a key element that previous versions underplayed: the title character.

There is little of the Cinderella character in prior interpretations of the ballet, said Stowell, co-artistic director of Seattle's Pacific Northwest Ballet, which will dance the full-length work Tuesday through Thursday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.

From the start, Stowell's lavish production, set in pre-Revolutionary France to a reworking of Prokofiev's ballet, focuses on Cinderella's quest for love.

When the curtain rises, there's Cinderella dancing with her prince. Then, in dream scenes (performed behind a gauzy scrim) that point to the lost loves in her life, she's seen with her deceased father and mother.

The pivotal ballroom scene features divertissements common to most productions. But, Stowell said in a recent phone interview from the 50-member troupe's headquarters in Seattle, "I still tried to reinforce the story of love, so the Good Fairy and a Devil act out this conflict, and there's Columbine and Harlequin, love objects, who are united by the Good Fairy."

Finally, Cinderella and the prince dance a pas de deux, alone on the stage as the ballet ends, Stowell said. "It's the idea that love transcends all."

Stowell, who directs the troupe with wife Francia Russell, said that previous versions allow comic antics to overshadow the fairy tale's true poignancy. So he cast women, not men in drag, as Cinderella's stepsisters.

Everything else in this $1-million production--the 23-year-old troupe's most expensive ever--is decked out. Decor by Tony award-winner Tony Straiges ("Sunday in the Park With George") includes chandeliers, a glittering chariot and a sweeping grand staircase.

While hardly the trappings of your contemporary love affair, Stowell says his ballet has relevance in the '90s.

"All of us have this obvious need to be loved and cared for," he said.

* What: Seattle's Pacific Northwest Ballet dancing "Cinderella."

* When: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 8 p.m.

* Where: Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.

* Whereabouts: San Diego (405) Freeway to Bristol Avenue, exit north. Turn right from Bristol onto Town Center Drive.

* Wherewithal: $18 to $49.

* Where to call: (714) 556-2122.

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