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Cinderella at Kennedy Centerreports of Feb 21, 22 & 23 '07


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#1 Natalia

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Posted 22 February 2007 - 07:22 AM

Let's get this party started!

Did anyone else attend last night's opener of the Possokhov 'Cinderella,' starring Svetlana Zakharova & Sergei Filin?

Here's my 'quickie view': OK but no great shakes. The setting/concept of Cinderella being the housekeeper/companion of a man ("The Storyteller") who lives on the Moon, who sends her to Earth and guides her through the story, is lovely. The spartan-but-clever scenery, props and costumes satisfy and, in some cases, are a marvel. However, the choreography is, for most part, insubstantial. As I heard certain passages of music, I recalled Ashton's delightful steps to the same, while watching the trite crap by Possokhov. (Apologies for my bluntness.) The one major exception was the lovely final pas de deux, in which Cinderella and the Prince convey their love in a most romantic -- bordering on the erotic -- manner. The Prince kisses Zakharova's glorious insteps not once but twice, then they roll on the floor while kissing one another. Hot stuff!

Zakharova's eloquent legs & arms (if not her dramatic skills - an inability to convey warmth) were worth an audience's sitting & watching for two hours. Filin was his handsome, princely self. The four Season Fairies -- all up-and-coming Bolshoi soloists, such as Natalia Osipova and Nelli Kobakhidze -- are fantastic dancers; these will remain the same four dancers at all three performances, so audiences attending this ballet tonight & tomorrow are in for a treat.

For the record: The Kennedy Center audience accorded the ballet an instant standing ovation at the end (at least among folks sitting in the orchestra section; not everyone in my area of 2nd Tier stood). Many loud 'bravi' for Zakharova & Filin...and for Gennadi Yanin, as the self-absorbed Dance Instructor.

#2 koshka

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Posted 22 February 2007 - 08:14 AM

Thanks for the review/preview, esp. the part about the Man in the Moon. I know ballet isn't really about plot, but I usually have trouble following stuff like that.

Have a not-ballet-fan friend visiting from Moscow who said, "but haven't you already seen Cinderella?"

Is it 2 acts/one intermission/2 hours?

And did anyone catch the dress rehearsal yesterday?

#3 ZB1

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Posted 22 February 2007 - 08:14 AM

I was there last night, but I’m afraid that Natalia’s review will sound absolutely glowing compared to mine. I entered the theater expecting to be charmed and/or impressed and left thoroughly disappointed. The dancing itself was fine (nothing special, actually, but not bad); the production was absolutely horrible. I alternated between hating it and being thoroughly bored by it – at some point during the second act, I actually fell asleep, which is something that I have rarely (if ever) ever done at a ballet.

I read the program notes before the ballet started; I was disappointed to learn that the story was not the traditional fairy tale but I was determined to keep an open mind. My resolve lasted until about the time when the dance teacher entered (who – Gennady Yanin, that is, in the role – was one of the few people I actually enjoyed watching). At that point I gave up and allowed myself to think negative thoughts, since it became harder and harder to fight them.

The steps were indeed, as Natalia put it, “trite crap,” and the few of the dancers stood out in their roles. I hated the concept of “the storyteller” as the fairy godmother; he seemed to have an almost creepy presence in and control over every aspect of Cinderella’s life (why did he have to watch her every step at the ball?) The stepmother and stepsister were just plain stupid, and not in a comic way. I prefer them to be portrayed as self-centered, spiteful, and somewhat clueless – all the physical jokes (falling over each other) in this ballet got old after about five minutes, but they were used over and over again. As a side note, I’d love to know who the dancers in these roles were, since they were all obviously ballet trained but had less than, um, ideal dancer bodies (both sisters were short and chubby, while the mother was as tall as a basketball player).

I kept waiting for the ballet to get better, but it never did. Why did the storyteller/fairy godmother hand out orange-colored sponge balls to the party guests? And why did the sisters drag them home in mesh bags? Nothing really connected for me in this ballet, and few of the dancers seemed connected to the roles they were portraying (actually, the stepsisters overplayed their roles, to the point where I wished that they would just disappear). Svetlana Zakharova was lovely but nothing more – I got absolutely no feeling for her character, and I saw no character development. There was little palpable or visible love for the prince from her side.

Sergei Filin was much better, acting-wise. I felt and understood his sudden obsession with Cinderella (somewhat, anyway), and there seemed to be much more affection for her on his side than there was for him on hers. Overall, however, there was a glaring lack of chemistry – except for maybe in the final pas de deux, but it should not have taken almost three hours to get there!

The audience seemed to like it (I was sitting in orchestra) – there was laughter at the “funny” parts (none of which struck me as particularly funny) and a standing ovation, which I really couldn’t believe (although DC audiences are quite generous with their standing ovations). I think there was a Zakharova “claque” seated somewhere near me, since I heard a loud burst of very enthusiastic applause coming from my left as soon as she appeared on stage, and some loud “brava”s after the act II pas de deux clearly meant for her.

I think the above few paragraphs might be harsher than I intended them to be, but I was truly very disappointed by this entire production. It was the first time that I saw Zakharova, and based on this one performance, she really doesn’t seem to live up to the hype! This was the first really bad performance that I have seen in a long time, and I see almost everything that is at or comes to the Kennedy Center (ballet, modern dance, opera, classical music, etc.).

#4 Natalia

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Posted 22 February 2007 - 08:16 AM

Koshka, this new version is in three full acts, two intermissions...about three hours, counting two half-hour intermissions. Sorry, I missed the preview; I'd assume that Cinderella at the dress rehearsal was either Krysanova or Schipulina?

Edited to add:
ZB1 - Ouch! but, hey, I hear you! The two stepsisters, Lola Kochetkova (the taller of the two) and Anastasia Vinokur wear false padding. However, you are right in that they are, in real life, a tad more 'fleshy' than the average ballet dancer, as we can see with their bare arms. At the beginning of her career, ca 2001, I remember Kochetkova's spectacular portrayal of a very thin & vampy Romola Nijinsky in M. Lavrovsky's one-act ballet 'Nijinsky' at the Bolshoi. Lola looks quite different in 'Cinderella'!

#5 Bill

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Posted 22 February 2007 - 09:39 AM

I went last night and sat in orchestra. My feelings on this Cinderella are between those of Natalia and ZB1 -- I enjoyed myself but to me this was very uneven. The plot device of having a male storyteller in place of the fairy godmother was jarring. The storyteller kept reminding me of the dissolute father in the Kirov Cinderella of a couple of years ago -- not a positive connection. I enjoyed Zakharova's dances with the wooden broom in Act I but the scene later in that Act when she dances with the living tea set and broom was odd, in part because of the cheesy costumes. The dances of the Four Seasons were lovely but the accompanying bug costumes did not add to the magic. Regarding the stepmother and stepsisters -- once again I found myself comparing these key characters with those in the Kirov Cinderella and these are not as memorable -- they're much more buffoons than the main sources of misery in Cinderella's life.

The ballroom scenes of Act II were OK, but the plot devices -- the storyteller at the ball, the drug-laced oranges (or were they magic?) -- were distracting. I actually thought the high point of the production was the Act II pas de deux -- graceful, athletic, and romantic. Filin was a dynamic Prince and I was impressed with the strength and dash of his dancing and that of his male companions -- the strongest steps in this production seemed reserved for the men.

Act III features the Prince visiting a Marlene Dietrich/Blue Angel character and an opera singer in his search for Cinderella. An OK idea, if not easily integrated with the story line, but this Act also included some of the female dancers in horse costumes which were ugly and a bit demeaning. Again, uneveness -- those costumes contrasted with some beautifully simple costumes for Cinderella and the Prince.

As Natalia indicated, the closing pas de deux was a wonder, which may have helped fuel the ovations. I did ask myself whether the applause was in part to welcome the Bolshoi back to the Kennedy Center. The evening had a festive atmosphere (I heard much Russian being spoken in the audience during intermissions), and I went home happy, but skeptical about the production.

#6 Natalia

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Posted 22 February 2007 - 09:52 AM

...... female dancers in horse costumes which were ugly and a bit demeaning.....


Maybe demeaning but you should have seen the looks of wonder on the faces of adult males who sat near me. A female friend of mine , who sat beside me, and I poked each other & tried to stiffle laughter as we caught sight of our male companions in ecstasy, opera-glasses pressed to their eyes!

But I agree with you - the dancers looked like Playboy Bunnies with horses' tails in place of the cotton balls!!!

p.s. - It's scary that the person (myself) who terms the choreography "trite crap" has the most positive review of the day! Heck, somebody stood up & applauded like crazy last night...not me. I guess that those-who-cheered don't read BalletTalk. But didn't I predict some time ago that the average KennCen audience would most likely enjoy this version? It's the waltzing tea set and the slides down the ballroom banister. Or those ponies.

#7 nysusan

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Posted 22 February 2007 - 11:14 AM

Thank you for these reports. I knew the minute they announced this engagement that I was going to see Don Q (I love their version and wouldn't miss Osipova/Vasiliev for the world!) but I've been vacillating about coming in early for the Friday night Cinderella for a month now. I've really enjoyed Krysanova in soloist roles so the idea of seeing her in a leading role was tempting - but I've never seen a Cinderella that I really loved and thus the hesitation.

The announcement of the Friday Suzanne Farrell Ballet performance tipped the scales for me but by then the Bolshoi's Friday night Cinderella was sold out. Judging from the responses here this is no great loss so I guess I won't be standing on the cancellation line....

Susan

#8 Natalia

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Posted 22 February 2007 - 11:23 AM

'Sold Out' means the seats. They're still selling Standing Room. If you really REALLY want to see Krysanova in a leading role, it may be worth calling the KennCen box office, as you can buy Standing Room over the telephone nowadays. The days of sitting in long lines on the day of a performance to obtain SR tickets are over (at least they are a thing of the past at the Kenn Cen).

#9 nysusan

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Posted 22 February 2007 - 01:09 PM

'Sold Out' means the seats. They're still selling Standing Room. If you really REALLY want to see Krysanova in a leading role, it may be worth calling the KennCen box office, as you can buy Standing Room over the telephone nowadays. The days of sitting in long lines on the day of a performance to obtain SR tickets are over (at least they are a thing of the past at the Kenn Cen).


Thanks for the tip Natalia- I haven't done standing room for years and would never have thought of it on my own. It's the perfect solution - if I really hate it I won't feel guily about leaving early. I just ordered my ticket and was told that it was the last one left

Susan

#10 Mashinka

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Posted 23 February 2007 - 04:09 AM

I’ve really enjoyed reading these thoughts on Cinderella. It received a mixed response in London last year, but it seems I enjoyed it more than most.

The Cinderella of choice here was Shipulina, who managed steps the others couldn’t, Zakharova wasn’t rated very highly in the role, but it’s fair to say that she is light years from British taste in just about everything. Krysanova is a lovely young dancer and it would be wise to catch a performance of hers at this early stage of what is going to be an illustrious career.

But didn't I predict some time ago that the average KennCen audience would most likely enjoy this version? It's the waltzing tea set and the slides down the ballroom banister. Or those ponies.


I loved the dancing crockery – and the slides down the banister! Agree the horses were a mistake though. Adored Gennadi Yanin, but then again I always do. But I’m sorry Washington won’t get to see Dmitri Goudanov’s classically perfect prince. Were I a Washingtonian I’d be sobbing my eyes out over his absence.

#11 ZB1

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Posted 23 February 2007 - 04:56 AM

Sarah Kaufman’s review in the Washington Post is absolutely glowing. Between that and the enthusiastic standing ovation the ballet received Wednesday night, I’m beginning to think that I missed something big – although I’m reassured by the fact that neither Natalia or Bill were especially impressed. I had several friends go last night (Thursday), so I will have to get their reactions. Despite the fact that I love ballet and see every company that I can in Washington, DC (and try to catch performances wherever I travel – mainly NYC) I am in general quite a lenient critic. I tend to find something I like in almost everything I see. To a certain extent, this was the case on Wednesday night, because I did like Yanin as the dance instructor and Filin as the prince. But that’s about it.

I agree with everything that Bill said in his comments above – I can’t believe that I forgot to mention the dancing horses! The Blue Angel and Opera Diva ideas seemed like they had potential but were poorly integrated into the plot. Were they just attempts by the prince’s friends to offer him distractions to his sadness over the loss of Cinderella? Or were they characters that the prince ran into during his quest for her? The various elements of this ballet were all poorly put together, and the lackluster choreography did not help…

Perhaps if I saw the ballet again, then I would have a more positive reaction (but I’m unwilling to spend the money or especially the time necessary to sit through it again, at this point). Evaluations – both positive and negative – made after only one viewing are always likely to be altered (however slightly) by a second, mainly because the viewer notices more of the details. Last month, I saw ABT’s “Othello” three times and came to like the ballet more and more (although I did not hate it upon my first viewing – I was impressed by and interested in it, just not enamored with it).

Speaking of “Othello,” I can’t believe how negative Sarah Kaufman’s review of the ballet was, especially compared with her (overly) positive review of the Bolshoi’s “Cinderella.” I’m as glad as anyone can be to see the Bolshoi back at the KC – and I’m still very much looking forward to the Osipova/Vasiliev “Don Quixote” tomorrow – but having such a well-respected name does not give a company the right to present anything it wants. Although the reputation can skew people’s viewpoints a bit. I mentioned my reactions to “Cinderella” to an ex-ballet dancer friend of mine, and she told me that in her opinion American audiences are sometimes too charitable when it comes to Russian companies, since their reputation (especially in popular culture, to the extent that ballet companies have any sort of reputation in popular culture) is that they are the absolute best. Audience members sometimes feel that if they did not like the performance, the fault is with them and not the performers on stage because the Bolshoi is simply incapable of presenting anything less than ballets of the highest quality. Now, I don’t want to say that the average DC ballet-goer is too stupid to realize the differences between good and bad performers (as subjective as those judgments are), but I do think reputation plays into it.

In fact, the reputation of the Bolshoi might have somehow – subconsciously – affected my evaluation of the ballet. A few years back, when I lived in St. Petersburg (as an American), proud residents of the city were always quick to point out how much better the Kirov (Mariinsky) ballet was than the Bolshoi. “Ballet in Moscow is NOTHING compared to ballet in St. Petersburg!” they would tell me. I still retain some “Petersburg pride” and I love the Kirov, so perhaps this affects my evaluation of the Bolshoi even when I don’t mean for it to? At any rate, there is no way the Bolshoi’s “Cinderella” can compare with the brilliant “Romeo and Juliet” the Kirov brought to DC last month. (Interestingly enough, I am no fan of the Kirov’s “Cinderella” – the Ratmansky version – either!)

At any rate, I stick by my initial reaction to the ballet, and I remain mystified by why Sarah Kaufman (a) loved it so much and (b) thought it was a meditation on Russian history and/or current Russian politics. As a graduate student in the Russian and East European Studies department, I can say with a good amount of authority that I know Russian history and politics, and I really didn’t see it show up in the ballet (except in Prokofiev’s score, but that is completely separate from the Possokhov choreography).

#12 ZB1

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Posted 23 February 2007 - 05:07 AM

One more thing: I am still kicking myself for not realizing that the man who sat directly in front of me in the audience was Alexei Ratmansky himself! I was annoyed that he always took his seat after the lights had already gone down (and popped out of his seat as soon as the lights went up) – but it wasn’t until the third act that I noticed the he entered the house from the door that leads backstage from the orchestra section. He was with an older gentleman and the two spoke a few words of Russian prior to the third act (when he took his seat a bit earlier), although I did not listen to their conversation because I did not realize who they were! In fact, it was only then that I began to suspect that they were affiliated with the ballet, and I took a good look at them to memorize their faces. As soon as I got home, I googled Ratmansky, and sure enough, the pictures that came up look just like the man that I saw!

I wonder if he heard any of the conversation (in English) that I had with my friend – especially the parts when I said how much I disliked the production and my complaint that the Kirov doesn’t have a decent “Cinderella,” either!

#13 koshka

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Posted 23 February 2007 - 05:48 AM

A few notes:

I nearly always disagree with Kaufman's reviews...

Put me with the lovers of kitsch: I liked the banister-sliding and the dancing teaset. Did not think the horses/Blue Angel/diva fit the plot _at all_ (and what was with the princesses from foreign lands that appeared for about 1 second???)

I could not figure out Cinderella's emotions at the beginning, though I thought Shipulina was a lovely dancer.

The Prince's four friends were very often woefully out of step with one another.
The stepsisters/mother were fun but tedious. The dancing instructor was terrific in every way.

From my seat just behind the conductor, the temptation to give him rabbit ears during the part where he appears on the curtain at the back of the stage was...strong.

Overall, I thought it was an interesting production, but once was enough.

More general Russian ballet questions:
--It seems that a lot more of the dancers are wearing Gaynor Mindens, or something that looks a lot like them--any word on this? It seems quite un-traditional and un-Russian, and thus quite interesting.
--Do the leading ballerinas still have costumes made for them (and owned by them)?

#14 Bill

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Posted 23 February 2007 - 06:30 AM

One more thing: I am still kicking myself for not realizing that the man who sat directly in front of me in the audience was Alexei Ratmansky himself! ....

I wonder if he heard any of the conversation (in English) that I had with my friend – especially the parts when I said how much I disliked the production and my complaint that the Kirov doesn’t have a decent “Cinderella,” either!

LOL -- he's guilty on both counts! (I actually liked the Ratmansky/Kirov Cinderella more than most)

#15 Natalia

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Posted 23 February 2007 - 06:45 AM

.... the man who sat directly in front of me in the audience was Alexei Ratmansky himself! ..... He was with an older gentleman and the two spoke a few words of Russian prior to the third act ....


ZB1, I don't know for sure who was that older gentleman but, during one of the intermissions, I saw Ratmansky talking with Oleg Vinogradov, former long-time Artistic Director of the Kirov-Mariinsky Ballet. Perhaps if you see Vinogradov's photo on the Kirov Academy of Ballet website, you'll recognize him too? Anyhow, Vinogradov himself choreographed a version of 'Cinderella' for the Kirov-Mariinsky Ballet in 1995, one that had very VERY luxurious sets & costumes, if I recall correctly.

re. Kaufman's review - I'm still in shock. Truly. How a knowledgeable critic can praise Posokhov's hack choreography like that is beyond me. And, interestingly, all that she wrote about Svetlana Zakharova is the one feature that many of us think she LACKS: ability to convey a warm personality on the stage (Kaufman wrote "ravishingly passionate"). That's it. Not a word about those hard-to-miss long legs/grand insteps/ribbony arms or her dancing abilities! Whatever... :)


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