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Bolshoi Ballet - 'Cinderella'

by Cassandra

August 9, 2006 -- Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

This Cinderella is part traditional fairy tale, part science fiction and part mirror into Prokofiev’s complex feelings, inspired by his ill-fated first wife. Although “Cinderella” finishes with a promise of happy ever after, the music is achingly sad, and unlike any other full-length ballet I can think of, almost completely written in minor keys. The most unusual aspect of this version is that Prokofiev himself is a major character, playing the role of the Fairy Godmother who is here named ‘The Storyteller’. I particularly admired the sets by Hans Dieter Schaal that explored new possibilities in ballet settings.

The ballet opens on a landscape in outer space with a lunar planet hanging low in the sky. Cinderella (Ekaterina Krysanova) is chasing away a flock of ravens with her broom and immediately establishes herself as a more forceful, less put-upon Cinders than the traditional hearthside waif. Her stepfamily is more annoying than vicious, tearing up her invitation to the prince’s ball and insisting on her acting as dresser as they choose their party clothes. The sisters aren’t so much ugly as funny; with padded bums and boobs Anastasia Vinokur and Lola Kochetkova made a terrific comedy double act.  With statuesque Maria Volodina as their mother, the biggest joke was how such an elegant parent produced such a pair of little pink powder puffs.

Prokofiev (Andrei Melanin) mostly sits atop the adjacent planet taking notes but delivers the prince’s invitations himself, flying through the air like ET on his bicycle. His interventions are fun and he sets the scene for various parts of the action by opening the vast boxes that become Cinderella’s kitchen and the dancing master’s mirror-lined studio. The dancing master is a preening Gennadi Yanin in period costume creating romantic stirrings within his plump pupils and dancing so perfectly that I regretted the plot gives him little more than a cameo role.

Cinderella dances with her broom just as she does in other productions, only here she dances in less than traditional fashion because her partner is not the usual broomstick but a kind of broom-man- stick, thin Alexei Loparevich, with a massive brush of hair. Their pas de deux is accompanied by a cluster of dancing crockery, cups and saucers, teapot etc. The Storyteller opens another box to reveal the four seasons’ fairies that dance accompanied by dragonflies, grasshoppers, sunflowers and bullfinches. Each presents Cinderella with a gift for the ball and she exits in her traditional pumpkin-vehicle.

Act two begins with a back projection, a clever device that is much more interesting than a front curtain, of the conductor, Alexander Vedernikov, conducting the overture. The costume design which was previously a bit vague, takes us into the art deco word of the 1930’s with the girls looking like Hollywood starlets alongside their partners in tuxedos. The set is dominated by a vast staircase and the prince (Dmitri Goudanov) actually makes his entrance by sliding down the banisters. Cinderella, initially escorted by Prokofiev, follows suit and is caught in the prince’s arms at the bottom. That’s what I call an effective entrance!

Stepmother and sisters arrive eager to snare a man, any man, and when good-looking mama manages to ambush one of the prince’s friends (Denis Medvedev), he doesn’t actually put up much of a struggle as she drags him offstage. Her cuddly daughters though are slightly less predatory and therefore less successful. They console themselves by filching all the oranges and rushing up that vast staircase clutching their swag with their bottoms bouncing as they run. Those oranges arrive by the trolley load, and the guests all get two each, enabling them to perform an amusing semaphore type number up and down the staircase.

The pas de deux that is the heart of this act is crammed with Possokhov’s ideas and at times looks over-busy. Some things in it I actually disliked, such a lift where Cinderella stretches out her legs horizontally before swinging them upwards into a V-shape, a sort of ten to two – very ugly in my opinion.

Cinderella forgets the warning to leave before midnight and dashes to one of the clocks trying desperately to turn back the hands, impossible of course, and the clock itself tears her fine gown off her leaving her in her kitchen dress. Her prince rushes past in hot pursuit of the girl at the ball. He casts a cursory glance at her and dismisses the menial girl he sees in a second: Cinderella collapses into sobs.

Act three has that problematic round the world search for a foot that fits the abandoned shoe. Ashton of course famously ignored this music altogether making it a very slender act in his production. I must confess I’ve never been totally happy with anything I’ve seen in other versions, perhaps because the music doesn’t seem to bear much similarity to the rest of the score. In this production the prince and his friends team up with a group of horses danced by girls with tails attached (hmm……not sure about that) and set off to encounter Marlene Dietrich and Maria Callas before finally searching in the right place. An odd aspect of the prince’s search is an oversized chair suspended upside down above the stage. I couldn’t figure out the significance of that at all. After a final funny encounter with the step family, Cinderella and her prince go off to happy-ever-after-land leaving the Storyteller/Prokofiev to exit via a crater in the low-lying moon.

Krysanova was well cast in this role and seemed to have a natural rapport with the elegant Goudanov, who danced with humor and panache as her prince. There were three casts for “Cinderella” and it was Ekaterina Shipulina who danced with the ‘wow-factor’ by executing a series of pirouettes followed by slides on pointe (no precise technical term appears to exist) and the other casts were not able to emulate this.

The ballet was well received by the audience and so far the comments from fans I’ve spoken to have all been positive.  Critical response has been less favourable though. This is a very unconventional “Cinderella” and some purists may have a problem with it, but it is packed with ideas and innovations that make it is impossible not to admire what choreographer Possokhov has done.

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