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Kirov Ballet - Alexei Ratmansky’s 'Cinderella'

by Catherine Pawlick

September 20, 2006 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg

From the very first notes of Prokofiev’s brilliantly beautiful score for the ballet “Cinderella”, Wednesday night’s full house at the Mariinsky sat in rapt attention awaiting what would prove to be one of the most luscious presentations yet. Evgenia Obraztsova’s debut in the title role quickly earmarked her as mistress of the dance, placing her in favor among the terpsichorean gods and hopefully among lesser mortals in ballet circles as well.

While it isn't clear if the company plans to tour this ballet in the future, one thing is certain: If you have the chance to see Obraztsova as Cinderella, make it a priority to do so. Her joyous smile brought vivacity and freshness to the role, and her own beauty is an apt match for the lovely cinder-girl whose gloomy life turns magically into a fairytale. Here the combination of her technique and refined dramatic ability surpassed even her contemporaries in fluidity, expression and lyricism.

Having seen Diana Vishneva, Natalia Sologub and Irina Golub also perform this role, this reviewer feels Obraztsova’s interpretation seems to be closest to what Ratmansky had in mind. Neither stilted in her dramatic delivery (one was always clear how her Cinderella felt, and why), nor allowing the constraints of classicism to give way to flyaway limbs or inexact movements (one had the impression of classical technique ever-present, but never reconstructed), Obraztsova’s high level of proprioception seemed apparent throughout the evening.

It is as if, gifted with complete mastery of Russian Vaganova technique, she can then effortlessly branch into modern choreography without losing her classical roots. She takes the dance one step further, infusing movement with the apparent warmth housed in her soul. Obraztsova has a sense of grace that not every ballerina can claim.

Her acting abilities have already been noted – she starred in the film “Russian Dolls” last year – but Obraztsova’s emotional delivery is only an additional, welcome component to her own tasteful adherence to all the tenets of Vaganova training.

One particular gesture in the ballet serves as a theme throughout. When Ratmansky’s Cinderella first appears in the ballroom, she is alone on an empty stage, in a beautiful white gown, her hands covering her eyes. Slowly she uncovers her eyes and peers out. Whereas others have done so in fear, or used later instances of the gesture to mimic tears, here that was not the case.

This gesture, done by Obraztsova, registered all of the disbelief of a young girl realizing she has been transported into her wildest dream. The smile that quickly followed underscored that point. Later, in her pas de deux with the Prince, this gesture repeats itself where it emphasizes Cinderella’s incredulity, as if to say “this dream cannot be real, I cannot believe my good luck.” The Prince however, gently removes her hands from her face in a reassuring gesture.

And so a word about the Prince is due. Igor Kolb seems made for Ratmansky’s Prince in the same way Obraztsova fits his Cinderella so well. Kolb managed to create the illusion of Obraztsova’s weightlessness in the multiple overhead lifts, which was no doubt aided by her compact frame. The pair’s chemistry was also fitting – from his first glimpse of her, Kolb never took his gaze off of this unknown beauty at the ball, giving one the distinct impression that he was truly smitten.

Kolb’s sleek jetes and smooth pirouettes were physical manifestations of his character. His hip, spiked hairdo and all-white tuxedo hinted at the guy who simply has got it all. This was a prince of the 21st century, and as Kolb’s Prince grabbed Obraztsova’s hand, whisking her offstage, one had the impression he was probably taking her to listen to his latest new age CD in a chic pad somewhere in the most happening section of the city.

Perhaps no one else on the current Kirov roster can do this role as much justice as Kolb can. His easy ability to appear completely entranced with Cinderella lends a coherence to the entire ballet that would be missing otherwise. His confident, modern stride as the Prince was also a nice counterpoint to Obraztsova’s shy, innocent Cinderella.

Clever details in Ratmansky’s composition continue to reveal themselves upon repeat viewings of the production. Cinderella’s “dream” in Act I was enhanced by red light illuminating the backdrop, which more clearly separated her reality (regular lighting downstage) from the fantasy in her mind being acted out upstage (the red light).

When the four seasons are presented to Cinderella by her Fairy Godmother, one is usually too distracted by their dancing to notice what else goes on. But at this point, at stage left, the season’s helpers urge the Fairy Godmother to open her bag of tricks, and inside are Cinderella’s glass slippers and evening gown.

From the broadway-esque pre-curtain beginning (three tall men, the hairdressers, display their sleek moves, clothed completely in black) to the avant-garde steps in the ballroom scene (hands are used repeatedly in brushing or waving movements, with plenty of sharp turns of head and sudden plies) all combine in a thoroughly modern approach towards 21st century full-length ballets. Ratmansky’s praises have already been sung, but they are earned anew each time this production is performed.

Other dancers also impressed. Konstantine Zverev made his debut alongside Ti En Ru as the dance teacher, replacing Islam Baimuradov who usually dances this role. Zverev managed to offer a taste of the aloof elitism of the sleek instructor, and offered adequate disgust at the stepsisters’ lack of dancing talent.

Easily noticeable for his command of anything allegro-related, Andrei Ivanov stood out as Spring, the first of the seasons. Maxim Zuizin as Autumn and Anton Pimenov as Summer each brought spark to their roles. Ivan Sitnikov was Winter, always lingering behind or being slowly pulled forward – an apt metaphor for the coldest of Russian seasons.

As the stepsisters, Viktoria Tereshkina and Elena Sheshina were essays in opposition – Tereshkina, long and thin, Sheshina, short and round. Both were hilarious in their sincere hopes of gaining the Prince’s hand (and money) in marriage. Irma Nioradze danced the role of Stepmother with equal humor. All three ladies proved their acting abilities this evening.

While atypical of the Kirov’s repertoire, Ratmansky’s “Cinderella” is a must see, whether on Russian or American stages. This evening’s cast was ideal in all respects.

Valery Ovsyanikov conducted.

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