Royal Opera House, London
8 & 9 August 2006
As part of their summer season in the capital, the Bolshoi presented Yuri Possokhov’s new version of “Cinderella”, created for the company earlier in the year.
“Cinderella” is not a ballet new to revisions and reworkings. The beauty of Prokofiev’s score has tempted many choreographers in the 20th century, though few have succeeded in marrying the musical richness with equivalent choreographic material. From Ashton’s more classical reading to Nureyev’s more contemporary reworking, the ballet has gone through different styles and concepts and in this light, Possokhov’s version is no novelty to the ballet scene.
Possokhov’s concept departs a little more than any of his predecessors in actually making the Cinderella story a subplot of the main theme, which presents the Storyteller (a metaphorical Prokofiev) and his assistant attempting a revision of the fairy tale. The concept is a bit too overstretched, but even if you miss this idea, the beginning of the ballet still works thanks to the wonderful designs by Hans Dieter Schaal and to the narrative of the choreographic text. Needless to say, great performances by Viktor Barykin as the Storyteller and Ekaterina Shipulina as his assistant really helped in establishing this initial tale within a tale structure.
Not everything worked in this new production of the classic, and yet, there were so many fresh ideas that it really made very interesting watching indeed. The first act flowed quite effortlessly with real characterisations from the main cast. Special mention must go to Gennady Yanin who danced a totally carried away Dancing Master not very far removed from Mark Morris’s mother character in his “Hard Nut”. In fact, there was another reference to Morris’s work in the interpretation of the Love of the Three Oranges music, which I found reminiscent of “Falling Down Stairs”. It may have been a coincidence, but it is worth noting that Morris’s work is very present in San Francisco Ballet, where Possokhov has developed a big part of his career.
Following previous Soviet productions, the Stepmother and Ugly Sisters are played by women and the departure to the Ball is accompanied by the Dragonflies and Grasshoppers. No objections to any of this, as the music is beautiful and the choreography was inventive. Of course, the Fairies did not achieve the masterful touches of Ashton’s characterisation, but they nevertheless sailed through the stage in preparation for Cinderella’s departure for the Ball.
The second act was the weakest from the choreographic point of view. Though still inventive and, thanks to the dancers, still worth watching, the choreographer showed a tendency for overcomplicated lifts and steps that made the dancers look at odds with the choreography and added very little to the overall content of the ballet.
On the 8th August, the character of the Prince was played by Dmitri Belogolovtsev, who really struggled with some of the steps and this made his characterisation unclear. Though the idea of having the Prince sliding down the staircase banister is great, Belogolovtsev could not sustain the humour throughout his choreographic entrance. Dmitri Gudanov in the matinee performance on the following day was much better in this respect and he managed to make sense of the steps and actually perform them in a way that made them much more interesting to watch.
Cinderella’s variation and interpretation fared better on the 8th August performance, with Shipulina really shining throughout. Ekaterina Krysanova was correct and charming, but lacked the special dream quality of longing that Shipulina had. In the variation of the second act, Shipulina performed a series of glides on her point shoes (in demi-point) that were simply gorgeous to watch and gave the character a especial quality of daringness and lightness.
The pas de deux was the most problematic part of this act, as Possokhov decided to cram as many difficult steps and lifts within the music as humanly possible . I simply found this unnecessary and, in fact, quite obtrusive with the musical structure of the piece. Prokofiev’s music allows for long phrases that should be allowed to breathe choreographically, instead of that, the latest offerings of this ballet by choreographers, have totally overcomplicated the choreography to the point where the dancers, far from being able to express their love, have more than enough trouble trying to catch each other up! Maybe it is a metaphor for the times that we are living, but a bit of cleansing of this pas de deux would make it more effective from the dramatic point of view and more enjoyable –no doubt- for the dancers who perform it.
The third act was again visually stunning, and though the trips of the Prince in search of Cinderella were certainly no choreographic masterpieces, they managed to sustain the viewer’s attention. The end of the ballet had some magical moments and I especially loved the one in which both Cinderella and the Prince simply sit at the front of the stage and look ahead. Again, less is more on many occasions, and it pays off in a dramatic work if you allow the dancers to simply express their emotions in uncomplicated ways. Once again, Shipulina was glorious in the last act and Krysanova managed quite well. Belogolovtsev was good, but I much preferred Gudanov for sustaining his characterisation as the Prince thorugh the whole ballet.
It was not a perfect “Cinderella”, but full of detail and new and interesting ideas. More work in the second act would pay off, especially for the dancers. The whole cast seemed to enjoy the piece and for the audience the chance of seeing the Bolshoi dancers excelling in new territory is always welcome!