Pretty fantasies

Dayton Ballet’s “Cinderella” dances in the details

By Arnecia Patterson
Photo: “When the fairy godmother works her magic, it will light up and the hands will spin”: the clock designed by Ray Zupp for Dayton Ballet’s “Cinderella”

When Dayton Ballet’s “Cinderella” dons a universal fantasy – couture clad, she falls through a party thrown by the aristocracy where her future husband, the Prince, awaits – she will do so on a stage chock with visions brought to life by artisans Lowell Mathwich and Ray Zupp. The costume designer and scenic designer have wended different paths to their respective roles in Dayton Ballet’s upcoming premiere of “Cinderella” – the second full-length story ballet of its 75th anniversary season. Yet, both are as in-step with the dancers and choreographer as if they were taking the stage themselves. In an art form that depends on wordless, centuries-old dance technique to provide context as narrative and details that move things along, spectacle is created with the right attention to the colors, fabrics and embellishments of ball gowns, headpieces and waistcoats; the whimsical color palette in a make-believe kitchen and the magic craft set upon an hour that sends a clock’s hands spinning. These pretty fantasies build fairy tales.

On an afternoon, three weeks before the opening night of  “Cinderella,” a typical hour in Dayton Ballet’s costume shop looks like a construction zone strewn with silk, netting and ribbon. A shift of stitching women sit at whirring sewing machines as bright and satiny garments, breathy with tulle, take shape around the hardware. A rack of silk, jewel-toned waistcoats is being unloaded from a van in front of the Victoria Theatre where the ballet will be performed. Mathwich is there to inspect them, eyeing their pleats in the sunlight and checking for the constructed perfection it takes to transform a working dancer into a page and transport an expectant audience into a fantasy.

Mathwich is to the costume manor born. He danced princely roles back in the early ‘80s with the Dayton Ballet and, from there, worked his way to shoe master and occasional headpiece builder, then into resident costume designer. Thirty years of dancing and designing for dance has taught him a lot about costuming dancers. “First, it has to move well. It has to fit to allow the dancers to be able to move,” said Mathwich. “That could mean extra gussets in places, or fabrics that would have a little more stretch than normal or the way that it’s cut and constructed.” His experience partnering ballerinas comes into play as well. “You learn where not to put trim on something because of partnering. I remember seeing a dancer bleeding because he cut his hand on a rhinestone in the wrong place on a costume.”

For the “Cinderella” audience, Mathwich’s attention to function will be immersed in the fairy godmother’s gown of deep blue and purple tulle topped by a shimmering starry bodice to represent the magical night’s sky and tied up in the gold and white ribbon stitched on to Cinderella’s tutus – she has both classical and romantic – that represent rays of light. The fairy seasons will have their own runway show of gossamer petaled, colorful spring flowers, sunflowers, shafts of wheat, grapevines and silver embellished lavender. “The whole point is to make it magical,” said Mathwich. “It’s a fairy tale. I’ve designed a lot of real life or true-to-life or historically-correct shows. This is a chance to do a fantasy, but it’s ballet fantasy, fairy tale fantasy, not science fiction fantasy.”

Ray Zupp’s circuitous path to scenic design has included a lot of miles between his boyhood home in Vandalia and Los Angeles and New York with plenty of trips back to Dayton to reconnect. He worked in the art department that provided the set for ABC’s drama, “Brothers and Sisters.” Working in the land of television and film, which places a high premium on the impact of visual setting, has prepared Zupp for his first foray into ballet. “I painted for Scott Kimmons for a long time and he was busy working on something else, so he gave my name to Karen (Burke).” Burke, choreographer and the artistic director of Dayton Ballet’s production of “Cinderella,” asked for something whimsical. “I’ve put some unusual colors in the large stones and there are a lot of colors and spirals,” said Zupp. “The clock itself is huge. It’s a little Tim Burton-y. When the fairy godmother works her magic, it will light up and the hands will spin. I’m still working on the mechanics of it, but it’s very cool.”

The influences of television, film and visual art converge in the ideas that Zupp brings to design.  He mentioned Salvador Dali, Tim Burton and the design of the 1997 TV movie, “Cinderella” with Whitney Houston, as touchstones but admits that the process of working in television can be isolating, even from a complementary department. He appreciates how everyone helps each other in bringing a ballet to life. “Theatre and dance is such a wonderful collaborative effort,” said Zupp. “You work with the costume designer and choreographer to create this cohesive look. In television everyone works separately.”

In Dayton Ballet’s case, the dreams of a dream trio are where public displays of fantasy begin.

The Dayton Ballet presents “Cinderella” Thursday, Feb. 7 at 8 p.m., Friday, Feb. 8 at 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 9 at 3:00 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 10 at 3:00 p.m. at the Victoria Theatre, 139 N. Main St. Tickets range from $20 to $70 and are available at Ticket Center Stage 937.228.3630 or online at 

Reach DCP freelance writer Arnecia Patterson at

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Arnecia Patterson has an infinite capacity to view concert dance. She found her former career as dance executive, funder, and consultant extremely satisfying—and finds writing about dance equally rewarding. Reach DCP Resident Dance Critic Arnecia Patterson at

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