By Jane Rosenberg
Prokofiev’s scores for Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella are simultaneously exuberant and sensuous, dark and ironic. To hear Cinderella played by the Mariinsky Orchestra accompanying the Mariinsky Ballet under the baton of Gavriel Heine is to hear all the lushness and dissonance this music has to offer. At every turn the brilliance of Prokofiev’s composition is honored from its elegant waltzes to its abrupt harmonic shifts.
In his 2002 version of the ballet, choreographer, Alexei Ratmansky, also tried to honor the score, and Los Angeles audiences have a chance to see the result this weekend at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
Unfortunately the ballet never comes together as a unified whole. This is Ratmansky’s work before he gave us the sensational Bright Stream and it feels scattered, often arbitrary. Though there are patches of genuinely moving sentiment and storytelling, particularly in the final pas-de-deux for Cinderella and her Prince, more often Ratmansky goes for the obvious laugh with highly stylized characterizations that lack insight and subtlety.
Ratmansky places his ballet somewhere between the nineteen-twenties and forties. Minimal and rather somber sets suggest an apartment building in Act One and Three, and the palace in Act Two. The Stepmother is a redheaded vamp out of an Otto Dix, German Expressionist painting; the Stepsisters are coquettish dolls in lingerie; and the dancing teachers are a highly sexualized couple who terrify everyone. But the most confusing decision is to change the Fairies of the Four Seasons into men who look part punk rock and part mock tribal. They appear to be human color abstractions with their hair, faces, and costumes painted in their representative colors of fluorescent green, red, orange, and baby blue.
They are oddly unsettling, perhaps because Ratmansky is trying to achieve something complex in seeking to make visual Prokofiev’s modernistic score. It is a worthy striving, but by omitting the choreographic touchstones of the ballet by either abridging or diminishing famous sections of the dance, he leaves us feeling unsatisfied. The Act Two waltz after Cinderella’s arrival at the ball is one of the most curious sections. The female dancers sway their backs and wiggle on point as if in a circus act. There is far too much posing and fussiness when one longs for expansive choreography that is of a piece with the music.
More traditional movement is allowed to the Prince, as danced by Konstantin Zverev. He makes the most of his allotment of grand jetés and fouetté turns. Dressed in white at the ball, he is imperious when called for; and, in the third act, wearing a backpack holding the slipper, he turns into the hero of a picaresque novel, trying to maintain his innocence at one brothel after another (one all female, one all male). He also shines in his few pas de deux with Diana Vishneva’s lovely Cinderella.
It is Vishneva’s melting lyricism that keeps the evening on keel. Her limbs, soft and fluid, undulate with expressiveness; but she can also execute, with speed and precision, the geometric twists and turns of Ratmansky’s choreography. As for her interpretation, this is not a Cinderella who wistfully accepts her fate. She is a tragic figure who rails against her entrapment, who believes there is no way out of her perpetual loneliness.
The other charming performance is Margarita Frolova as the stepsister, Khudishka, who is able to illuminate Ratmansky’s broadly playful choreography and rein it in with clarity and refinement. Also endearing is Ekaterina Ivannikova’s Kubishka, the second sister. As the stepmother, dressed in quasi Weimar Republic fashion with bobbed hair, Sofia Gumerova is unable to tame her flamboyant gestures and is a mass of arms and legs in perpetual motion.
This company that brought the west Rudolf Nureyev, Natalia Makarova, and Mikhail Baryshnikov does, however, joyfully entertain the rapt audience at the Dorothy Chandler for two plus hours. Despite the shortcomings of Ratmansky’s Cinderella, it is a night to revel in the beauty of the Mariinsky dancers and the gift of Prokofiev’s music as played by the exhilarating Mariinsky Orchestra. Alternating casts are in performance through Sunday, October 11.
Photos by V. Baranovsky.
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Cast: (Oct 8)
Cinderella: Diana Vishneva
Prince: Konstantin Zverev
Stepmother: Sofia Gumerova
Khudishka: Margarita Frolova
Kubishka: Ekaterina Ivannikova
Fairy-Tramp: Elena Bazhenova
Cinderella’s Mother: Lubov Kozharskaya
Cinderella’s Father: Andrey Yakovlev
Spring: Vasily Tkachenko
Summer: Alexey Popov
Autumn: Konstantin Ivkin
Winter: Andrey Soloviev
Dance Teachers: Viktoria Brileva, Yuri Smekalov
Hairdressers/Searchers: Oleg Demchenko, Fedor Murashov, Denis Zainetdinov
Female Dance: Diana Smirnova
Male Dance: Islom Baimuradov
Choreography: Alexei Ratmansky
Music: Sergei Prokofiev
Musical Director: Valery Gergiev
Conductor: Gavriel Heine
Set Design: Ilya Utkin, Yevgeny Monakhov
Costume Design: Elena Markovskaya
Lighting Design: Gleb Filshtinsky
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To read more dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.
Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets. Jane is also the author and illustrator of SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children