by Carlos Stafford, The Model Critic
I imagined I was eight years old. I’m at Disneyland and it starts to rain. All the rides are closed except It’s A Small World. No Haunted House, no Pirates of the Caribbean, no Frontier Land, or Tomorrowland. Mickey and Minnie are running around drenched looking for cover.
That’s about as much fun as I had with Alex Ratmansky’s Cinderella, Act 1. From great anticipation to this chilly interpretation of Cinderella. No fun, no magic, no humor I could recognize. In this production, the evil stepsisters are actually attractive, well dressed, and are mostly graceful, except for when the dance teachers arrive, and they indicate akwardness here and there; however subtle the distinctions. Cinderella’s father is a drunk who stumbles home and asks Cinderella for money. I never knew young Cinderella, being a slave to her sisters, had a stash of money in a cookie jar. Then there is the problem of the indefinite gender of the four magical fairies representing the seasons; four men dressed in colorful cutout leotards with midriffs and various bandeau tops. Where the evil stepsisters are usually portrayed by men, and are funny, Ratmansky chooses to make the fairies cross-dressing creatures without humor. Tepid applause.
But the Mariinsky is one of the most famous, as well as oldest ballet companies in the world, and after 250 years they know a thing or two on how to put on a production. This Cinderella must be an exception, however, as it apparently comes under the heading of “perspectivism.”
Gratefully, they begin to redeem themselves in Act 11 as Ratmansky dazzles with the highlight of the evening–an exquisite pas de deux between the Prince and Cinderella at the Ball, danced with liquid energy by Nadezhda Batoeva and Vladimir Shklyarov. I at once thought of Fredrick Ashton’s balcony scene from Romeo and Julliet, with the similar evocative and soaring romantic music, and passionate choreography. It was splendidly done. Then once again later, the couple dance in the final act, reunited at last, as choreography, dancers, and music become an exceptional and glorious unity.
Ratmansky’s greatest ability is how he fluidly moves his dancers through space with surprising ideas, and musicality. The movements evenly connect and reconnect in brilliant patterns that are full of substance and delight.
But overall, the problem with this Cinderella is not in the choreography, the steps, the surprising and flowing transitions nor especially, the scintilating dancers with their always remarkablable beauty and technique–we’ve grown to expect this high quality. Rather, the problem lies in the artistic direction. Being a narrative ballet, you’d expect a good story. Here, Act 1 is awful, Act 11 soars, and Act 111 is very mixed. You get the impression that the story was an afterthought to the choreography, that humor was barely considered, that the acts don’t link up.
For all the world class talent onstage and in the pit, the overall affect was unevenness. For instance, when the Prince searches the world for a foot to fit the glass slipper, we have the dullest section immaginable. This is a blarring artistic opportunity to display fun, wonder, and lightness, to take the audience on a wondrous journey. But what we get again is another deflating transvaluaton. We are shown the Prince finding a group of women–who knows from where or representing what–oblique, probably hookers. Not much chance for a proper fitting here. Next stop, we encounter seven guys dressed in blue and black. They pummell the Prince and clearly don’t fit the slipper, or care–are they nasty gay thugs from Marseille with a shoe fetish? Or, are they merely emblematic of life’s negative forces? This part of the story was very strange and incomplete.
Sadly, these two meager stops represent the Prince’s entire search. Dramatically, it should be a fun interlude for the audience before his final ecstatic discovery. Like Candide, what the Prince finds in his brief travel is bleak and cold. I guess this could be someone’s joyless intepretation, but this sober, obscure, and disspirited meaning seems totally inappropriate in dance, perhaps not in literature–it leaches out any form of revelation or elevation to the fairy tale that occurs only moments later, and lessens the joy of his return and final union.
Not until, that is, the last pas de deux that salvages the performance with its abundant life force; again magnificently performed by the two exceptional principals. This was the fireworks, this was the glory.
But as for the Prince, at that point, he could’ve have settled for a stepsister.
BAM and the Mariinsky Ballet present
at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Howard Gillman Opera House
Music by Sergei Prokofiev
Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky
Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg
Musical direction by Valery Gergiev
Conducted by Valery Gergiev
Principal casting*: Diana Vishneva/Konstantin Zverev/Yekaterina Kondaurova (Jan 17), Anastasia Matvienko/Alexander Sergeyev/Anastasia Petushkova (Jan 18),
Nadezhda Batoeva, Vladimir Shklyarov, Ekaterina Kondaurova (Jan 20)