Prokofiev’s Cinderella is very much a product of war, written between 1940 and 1944 alongside his opera War and Peace.
Frederick Ashton produced a version for Sadler’s Wells Ballet in 1948, just three years after the Bolshoi premiere. But Ashton slapped a traditional English pantomime, complete with dame en travestie, comic dances and fairy-tale ending onto an unsympathetic score. His production completely negates the darkness that seeps out of every note, reflecting the horrors of the war in which millions of Russians died.
Matthew Bourne’s 1997 production was much closer to the mark, set in a bombed- out Cafe de Paris with the suggestion that the whole thing is a fantasy of Cinderella’s bomb-concussed mind. Alexei Ratmansky continues in this vein, this production being quite sparse and rooted in the imaginative.
The acting throughout is superb. Diana Vishneva is rightly lauded as a wonderful dancer, but in fact she speaks with her whole body. Her eyes in particular are so expressive, and of course the camera allows us to get in close in a way that it’s difficult to do in the theatre. Her growth from vulnerable, somewhat drippy girl to being confident in love comes across on screen so clearly.
Elsewhere, Ekaterina Konaurova almost steals the show as the demented Stepmother with razor-sharp feet and resplendent in a violent orange, bobbed wig. Margarita Frolova and Ekaterina Ivannikova as her equally bonkers daughters are also brilliant, squabbling and ganging up against Cinderella in turns.
Like the best of comedies, Ratmansky’s Cinderella, is shot through with tragedy. Cinderella’s father is a weak drunkard, constantly asking her for money and trailed by his drinking cronies. It is easy to see how he was duped into marrying Machekka and supporting the step daughters from hell. No help for her there then. She is left to dreaming and polishing the bleak, metal stairs of the set and sometimes trying to separate the feuding sisters.
Having had their locks coiffured, mother and daughters call in the dancing master and his chic partner with predictably disastrous results. When it’s time to go to the ball, they leave Cinderella to scrub the stairs and moon over her fate in her tattered cardigan and baggy leg warmers. As the ladies are leaving, a babushka hobbles in carrying two heavy bags. Cinderella offers her water, for which kindness the crone summons the seasons and rummages in her bag to produce shiny shoes and a ball gown.
The seasons are represented by slightly punky, abstract male beings who also befuddle the assembled guests at the ball. Ratmansky gives them excellent solos in the meantime.
Cinderella arrives at the ball and is bewildered. The palace is sketched in a cloth with a perspective that suggests long, confusing corridors and lofty ceilings. Poor country mouse Cinderella is cowed and bewitched in equal measure.
Of course the Prince does not get to meet her until he has schmoozed the talent and suffered the indignities of dancing with both stepsisters and mother. Vladimir Shklyarov is an insouciant young man who oozes privilege and is very much one of the beautiful set. One senses that he is attracted by the droopy Cinderella because he is rather bored with the shallowness of court life. Shklyarov is reminiscent of the young Baryshnikov, with flawless technique and feline landings. All that and he acts his socks off as well.
Ratmansky’s choreography is subtle. He is not interested in the set-piece, lush pas de deux but in character-led movement. Fiendish in its technical challenges without being flashy, he is well served by all of his dancers who dash off intricate steps and stretch into long lines whilst never forgetting that they are telling a story.
There is plenty of dancing for the men too, with spot on batterie and plenty of controlled pirouettes, whilst the women relevé onto crescent feet and hold balances as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
The prince duly sets off on his quest for the wearer of the lost slipper, shed as Cinderella fled the midnight chimes in her rags. On the way he encounters a flock of sirens and decides that such obvious sexuality is not for him. Next he comes across a group of swish men who try to distract him also, but he rejects that form of sexuality too.
Finally he arrives at Cinderella’s house where mother and sisters contort their feet into the impossibly small shoe (this was of course originally a Chinese tale which was promoting the bound foot). Cinderella is perched on the steps above from where she drops her precious, souvenir shoe, revealing all.
This is most definitely a DVD to add to a classic collection. Ratmansky has a profound understanding of the score and the context in which it was written and of course, he has at the helm Valery Gergiev and the tremendous Mariinsky orchestra. He rightly eschews the cheesy, Disney-esque fairy story and there is a sense that this is a knowing fantasy, indulged in as a relief from the realities of the world.
A co-production by State Academic Mariinsky Theatre and Telmondis
1 Blu-ray & 1 DVD (double play) MAR0555 822231855521
Duration approx. 120 minutes
Filmed at the Mariinsky Theatre, on June 18, 2013
USA – September 18, 2015
UK – October 2, 2015
International – October 2015
For full casting and to watch the trailer, click here.