by Catherine Pawlick
July 5, 2006 -- Mariinsky State Theatre, St. Petersburg
People waited at least six months for this. Alexei Ratmansky’s “Cinderella”, the only work in the Kirov repertoire by the artistic director of the Kirov’s competing company, the Bolshoi, returned to the stage earlier this week after a long absence. This “Cinderella” is a spectacular, concise ballet, full of contemporary movement that aptly captures the magic and hope of the well-known fairytale. In short, it is genius. And, danced by Irina Golub and Igor Kolb, it made for an entrancing evening.
This version of “Cinderella” is far from the classical versions danced by the Royal Ballet, or any other leading classical ballet company. Ratmansky’s choreography is characterized by fresh modernity (the opening scene shows three male hairdressers in tight pants and short vests dancing around their seated clients), sleek pantomime (the dance instructors are paid for their time in clear and comical fashion), and innovative movement (the theme in Cinderella’s pas de deux is a backwards lift through double retire passé and ends in a plie ecarte devant, hardly feminine but certainly sweeping). The evening captivated the audience from start to finish.
Almost every element in Ratmansky’s production is unique. Instead of having four ballerinas depict the seasons, he uses four male bird-like characters, with faces painted to match their unitards – red, orange, green and blue. Cinderella’s lodgings are simply the empty stage encompassed by two sets of high iron scaffolding. A large iron circle symbolizes a clock, hung upstage, which turns horizontally to become a giant chandelier in the ballroom scene. And the ball itself is set in the 1920s: all the men wear tailed tuxedos, the women long dresses with gloves, and each has her own (often feathered) hat.
Costumes set the tone from the very start. Cinderella is in a high-waisted, knee-length dance dress, with a cropped long-sleeve sweater and matching slouchy legwarmers. Her stepsisters wear fluffy towels, and later gaudy mini-skirts with bright-colored tights. The short sister has a curly red wig, the tall sister a Betty Flintstone type ponytail, and the Stepmother a fluorescent orange bob.=
It becomes challenging to describe Ratmansky’s choreography further, but he seems to mix mundane movements with explorations in balance and torque. He has Cinderella scrubbing the floor in normal, everyday gesture; likewise the Stepmother and her daughters constantly depict tantrums by stomping their feet. But the real dancing sections between the Prince and Cinderella are the core of his talent. Here one sees a mixture of Alonso King type movement, initiated from the center, and heavily based on the dancer’s points of balance. Port de bras is fluid--it follows and aids, rather than leading or decorating the movement.
Ratmansky’s trademark seem to be unexpected step combinations that do not necessarily always emphasize musical crescendos. He steps away from obvious choreographic tendencies and the results are refreshing. For example, most classical ballet viewers are used to seeing the fish dive on the crescendo, or the 32 fouettes in the most heated part of the score. Here, a simple jump or soutenue might replace that glorious lift, but the choreography doesn’t detract from the score. In fact, oddly, it highlights the musical peaks and valleys and allows the composer’s work its own equally significant place in the production.
For this performance, Irina Golub offered a fair representation of Cinderella, but character-wise this talented dancer can do better. Technically masterful, Golub’s emotions changed mercurially throughout the performance, lending an uneven tone to what should be a more constant characterization. One had the sense that she had watched and mimicked another dancer in the role, which at times worked in her favor. But due to the fluctuations in her character, it made for an irregular portrayal. For example, at the ball, she appeared ecstatic at having met her prince, but during their pas de deux she put her head in her hands in a move of disappointment, fear and sadness. Her Prince lifted her chin and the look on her face was not at first a merry one. One didn’t have the impression of a shy Cinderella, so the result was jagged – one moment she was happy, the next miserable. That same position of head hidden in hands happens several times in the ballet, making it a theme: the idea is that the heroine closes her eyes and opens them in the ballroom – she has been transported into her wildest dream. It would make sense then, during the grand pas de deux, to repeat the gesture of wonder and awe, rather than fear or misery. Likewise Golub’s collapse onto the stage after the ball was overacted; her body shook more than need be. These are small details that make a big difference and with a few slight changes, Golub’s Cinderella could be perfect.
Perfect, in fact, was her partner, Igor Kolb, as the Prince. Kolb’s gymnastic flexibility is evident in his every stance, from grand jetes that are lighter than soufflés, to a simple tendu that shows off his fine technique. Kolb also has an innate turning sense. He has perfected pirouettes in attitude down to a science. But more importantly was his friendly, demeanor. His was not the cold, unapproachable Prince. Indeed, Ratmansky’s character allows for an everyday guy looking for his dreamgirl. That the everyday guy is royalty with a fortune is simply superfluous detail (to everyone, that is, aside from the Stepfamily).
Deserving more than honorable mention are Islam Baimuradov and Ti En Ru as the dance instructors. Sleek, cool, and cutting-edge were their characters, and smoother yet the dance. Neither could be bothered with this task of teaching three ungraceful ladies, and their haughty, above board attitudes were nicely balanced with the skill in which they partnered each other.
Ekaterina Kondaurova debuted as Stepmother with a glamour that was perfectly disgusting for the role. In bright orange wig and matching boa, she weaseled her way through the ballroom scene like a snake after its prey, the Prince. Kondaurova aptly depicted the mother in competition with her own daughters, vain and self-absorbed.
As the shorter daughter, Elena Sheshina presented a comical, chubby Kubishka (Shorty) to Viktoria Tereshkina’s gangly, clumsy Xydishka (Twiggy). Such roles involve not only heavy acting but multiple attempts at awkward, off-balance dancing as part of their character portrayal. Both Tereshkina and Sheshina have mastered these.
Likewise, both Igor Petrov, as Cinderella’s alcohol-addicted father, and Elena Bazhenova as the baglady Fairy Godmother acted their roles with as much zealousness as could be. Petrov created a sorrowful character in the father who disappoints all expectations, and Bazhenova’s portrayal is remembered for her new-age hip jumps and elderly hobble.
Among the four seasons, it was Sergei Popov as Winter who stood out for his grace and long lines, despite his less than flattering wig. Maxim Zuizin seemed to enjoy his dance sequences as Autumn, lending a happy lightness to his jump. The other seasons were danced by Anton Lukovkin (Spring) and Dmitrii Pikhachev (Summer).
Boris Gruzin conducted Prokofiev’s unforgettable score with feeling and intuition.
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