A conversation with Noelani Pantastico

PNB principal dancer and lead in ‘Cendrillon’

Principal dancer Noelani Pantastico returned to Pacific Northwest Ballet in 2015 after six years dancing with Les Ballet de Monte Carlo, led by choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot. Seattle has been very excited to have her back. Her further development as an artist during her time away garnered her a nomination for a Stranger Genius Award in performance last year. 

This month, she’ll dance the leading role in “Cendrillon,” Maillot’s non-traditional take on the Cinderella story, when PNB premieres the production in Seattle. Maillot also created PNB’s ‘Romeo et Juliette.’ PNB artistic director, Peter Boal, says, “We see the story through a different lens, shedding light on Cinderella’s father and his relationship to her mother.”

Pantastico has already danced the role many times of Cinderella many times and has strong knowledge of all its roles given her experience with Monte Carlo. So, we spoke recently regarding the original features of one of Monte Carlo’s biggest hits, including a sexy stepmom and sisters and a barefoot Cinderella.   


What do you like best about Maillot’s version of Cinderella?

Pantastico: There are caricatures, but then there are also real people — Cinderella and her father. The stepsisters and the stepmom are more caricatures. I always like that his work is very human If you’re sitting in the audience, you can really understand a character’s point of view. Cinderella has lost her mother and is still mourning, and the father is as well.


How is Maillot’s “Cinderella” different from the one we know?

Pantastico: The stepmom and the stepsisters are very beautiful and sexy, and it makes perfect sense why the father is with them. In Disney, they’re ugly, atrocious. They’re wearing a kind of a corset, and their boobs are pushed up. They do all of these movements in the beginning where they’re checking their nails. They’re all about beauty. They’re also mean and in competition with each other and everyone.


Of the role of Juliette from Maillot’s Romeo et Juliette, you’ve said, “It’s so comfortable for me.” How does Cinderella compare?

Pantastico: I think I’m closer to Juliette’s personality, so this is a bit of a departure for me to be Cinderella I’m romantic in a lot of ways, but I don’t fantasize about true love and running barefoot through fields. Cinderella’s her own person, but she’s younger – 15 or 16. Whereas Juliette, she’s young, but she has a real sense of herself.


Who are the Pleasure Superintendents? Are they basically attendants?

Pantastico: They appear throughout the ballet. They are kind of the stepmother’s servants; they tend to her.

But, the Superintendents can see the fairy. Cinderella’s mother is also the fairy – it’s the same person. They are able to see her, often carry her around, and interact with her. They’re part of the magic that happens – they help Cinderella transform into her ballgown and her glitter feet.


Are you in pointe shoes or barefoot?

Pantastico: I’m barefoot the whole time. 

The first thing the prince sees coming down the staircase is Cinderella’s feet. There’s magic surrounding them -- they’re all sparkly. But, then it’s not just that – her feet — obviously, because then he could fall in love with a lot of women.


The prince seems to be different too. Is he more than just an eligible bachelor?

Pantastico: He’s a real guy — a dude. He’s got his entourage – four friends. He gives them a hard time, or they give him a hard time. He’s not pretentious around them. 

Because he is this very natural guy, and she’s this very natural girl, it seems likely [that they’d fall for one another]. When they meet each other, one isn’t stronger than the other, even though he may be higher in society than she. [After the ball] he goes searching for her, this person he found at the ball and fell in love with. He goes to far-off lands with his friends. The sets are actually [depicting] pages in a book, and they change to make the different scenes. At a certain point, they all come together to become a boat. 


You’ll be dancing new roles during the second half of the season. Anything you’re nervous or super-excited about?

Pantastico: Since I’ve been back, I don’t like to know what I’m going to be dancing. This is my choice. I don’t want to set myself up – get my heart set on something. What if I’m injured? I find out when the casting comes out, and then I live in the moment. I don’t like to live too far in the future or the past for that matter.


‘Cendrillon’ runs Feb. 3-12 at McCaw Hall. Tickets can be purchased by calling 206-441-2424 or at www.pnb.org