by Catherine Pawlick
July 17, 2004 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia
In one word: brilliant. For the uninitiated, Alexei Ratmansky’s “Cinderella” may, upon first viewing, appear avant-garde, modernistic, unconventional. But it is precisely those traits that update his ballet with freshness and hints of mystery, allowing a classical fairytale to bloom again under a more modern cloak. His “Cinderella” is the perfect food for the Mariinsky dancers who, during Saturday night’s performance, demonstrated that they too have the ability to move modernly within the constraints of a classically-based training.
If Forsythe is contemporary ballet taken to the limit, Ratmansky’s “Cinderella” is just a few degrees shy of that. That his dance vocabulary is varied will come as no surprise. His movements stem from the center of the torso, including plenty of reverse port de bras and innovative lifts, punctuated by a swerving hip or flexed foot here or there. This vocabulary is set off and enhanced by equally modern sets. The audience filters into the house with the curtain already drawn, revealing a black and white, half-transparent scrim that outlines a cityscape full of buildings with hundreds of windows. We know even before the conductor lifts his baton that we’re not going to watch the 18th century horse-and-carriage version of this ballet.
The on-stage sets, in like fashion, are sparse and ultra modern. For the first Act, two tall scaffolds with iron stairs winding upwards are set opposite each other on stage. For the ballroom scene, the scaffolds disappear and the backdrop changes to an almost trompe l’oeil of a long receding hallway. Clever use of a symbolic iron clock-turned-chandelier lends a nice touch during the scene changes.
Equally modern is the choice to choreograph the four “seasonal” fairies as men in unicolor unitards (yellow, green, red and blue, respectively). Their attendants are females in tutus and point shoes. Maxim Ziuzin drew recognition as the Autumn “fairy”, a long-limbed, succinct dancer with a great future ahead of him.
Other highlights in this ballet include the ballroom scene, abounding with men in full black-tie and tails, and women in slinky red or orange dresses with black elbow-length gloves, all circa 1930. Together they do the bunny hop, the choo-choo train, and dance in pairs, a la Ratmansky.
And, for all its modernity, the ballet holds some uniquely Russian touches as well. Cinderella’s father enters during the first scene with two drinking buddies. Clearly drunk, he asks his daughter for additional money. In contrast to the reality of this scene, Cinderella reminisces over her father and real mother, and they appear onstage behind her, illustrating her thoughts. The Fairy Godmother appears first as an elderly babushka in layman’s clothing, laden with too many bags, and seeks brief refuge with Cinderella. The Godmother reappears throughout the ballet, always heavily laden and hunched over, reminding Cinderella to watch the time.
To set the tone initially, the first Act opens with three male hairdressers, sleekly danced by Fedor Murashov, Alexei Nedvega and Grigorii Popov in black leather pants and black muscle T shirts, hair greased back, as they dance around their clients (the two stepsisters and the stepmother). Nedvega stood out in the trio, notable for his clear execution and presence. In this scene, one immediately one receives the impression of a Broadway-esque performance, which then morphs into fuller Ratmansky as the three females (for they are certainly not ladies) begin to try to dance. Tatiyana Serova was the proud Stepmother, replete with electric orange bobbed hair and an attitude to match. Her daughters, danced by Viktoria Tereshkina and Elena Sheshina, respectively, were essays in polar opposition – one tall, lean and dark-haired, the other shorter, more rounded and blonde. Nothing about this stepfamily matches, which makes it all the more enjoyable -- especially when Cinderella comes along.
Diana Vishneva danced the role of Cinderella expertly, taking full advantage of not only the off-balance reaches, but the centered balances sprinkled throughout the choreography. When not constrained by classical line and gesture, Vishneva is even more pleasing to watch. She exuded joy as Cinderella, and when pensive or sad her acting was palpable to the outer reaches of the house.
Andrei Mercuriev, the suave, debonaire Prince appears in all white, a stark contrast to the modernly clothed ball attendees. His clothing is as his movement: smooth, swift, flowing, certain. His calm certitude was a pleasing contrast against Vishneva’s shy, self-questioning Cinderella during the opening ballroom sequence. Together their partnering was untainted, the lifts light as clouds, the movements sweeping and grand. The final pas de deux was full of sheer romance as the two danced under a star-studded night sky. One can’t imagine this scene being done differently; it left a strong impression of a glorious fairytale courtship, suggesting dreams do come true. Watching this ballet, at least, can bring one to believe that.
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