Lyon Opera Ballet
February 19, 2003 -- Sadler's Wells Theatre, London
The programme notes for the Lyon Opera Ballets "Cinderella" contain a lot of references to the darker psychological undercurrents of this popular fairy story that frankly I have been missing for years. For example, I never picked up on the castration anxieties at all! How naïve I must be. Perhaps it was fortunate I read the aforementioned notes on the train going home because it seems as if there is a massive gulf between the artistic intentions and my own perception of what I saw.
Maguy Marins production of "Cinderella" seemed to me to take place entirely in a childs world populated by toys, with only the undoubted sophistication of Prokofievs music acknowledging the fact that adults will be watching this too. But even the familiar score is interrupted by the chuckles and gurgling of very small children making one feel like an eavesdropper at the playroom door.
Cinderella is a doll with a dolls face of great gentleness and innocence with just a hint of sorrow. Her father has a face of sorrow, perplexity and pain. Stepmother and daughters look smug and sinister and strut about aggressively inside their fat-suits. Father carries in a heavy suitcase and leaves it with his daughter who becomes scared of it when she is left alone. There is something moving inside, but what? The something turns out to be a strange creature made of knotted sheets with a face drawn on it. Cinderella plays happily with it at first as it looks like she has found a friend, but from inside this odd creature a fairy (complete with the flashing fairy lights of a Christmas tree) emerges ready to take Cinderella to the ball in a splendid toy car with three ballerinas and what are described as "musical animals"in attendance.
At the ball Cinderella is resplendent in a little hooped skirt with flashing lights just like the fairys. The Prince, with a face of innocence like Cinderellas, has a flashing coronet to match. The guests descend the ballroom staircase by bumping down on their bottoms. They soon tire of dancing and make their way to the buffet where sticks of rock are distributed, but sadly a quarrel breaks out over who has the largest stick. They are distracted by the appearance of the Princes cake with candles on top, before joining in a game of hopscotch and communal skipping. Then the clock strikes twelve. Cinderella has to run for it and finishes back in the kitchen with only her broom to dance with.
The Prince, distraught at the loss of his new playmate, mounts his rocking horse and goes in search of a foot to match the little slipper. Everyone else joins in the search together with their toys -- some of the most attractive mechanical toys Ive ever seen by the way, all crossing the stage on their own. The Prince meets a beautiful Spanish and a sensuous Arabian girl neither of whom has a small enough foot. He eventually arrives in Cinderellas kitchen where the ugly sisters try their luck whilst their mother sits firmly on the miserable Cinderella. But the fairy is having none of that and rescues the girl from under the fat posterior. The shoe fits of course and everyone celebrates. Cinderella and the Prince reappear and have clearly been blessed as she pulls behind her a little trolley laden with twenty little baby dolls.
Quite simply I loved it.
My companion did not, as the masks spoilt it for him and he missed seeing the dancers' faces. To me the doll-masks added to the toyland atmosphere and the feeling of reliving childhood. The sets by Montserrat Casanova were quite wonderful, creating the appearance of toy boxes stacked on top of one another and as each box was randomly lit they also had the look of a giant game of noughts and crosses again enforcing the nursery theme.
At the curtain calls the dancers removed their masks and the spell was broken.
The multi-national cast was led by Russian Xenia Kastalskaya as Cinderella and Australian Andrew Boddington as her Prince. They were both excellent. The theatre was less than full on a bitterly cold night and from the comments of other audience members some were clearly enthralled and others not impressed. It was an all adult audience last night but Id be intrigued to know what a child might make of it and what the critics will think of it also.
Edited by Mary Ellen Hunt.
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