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Ratmansky Cinderella


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I've seen it and there are moments here and there that are interesting, but it is a modern updating of Cinderella and not traditional at all. The stepsisters and mother are getting hair done by wild looking hairdressers. The fairies (seasonal fairies) are men who look like punk rockers to me, although some of the choreography for these fairies is interesting. When the prince goes to look for Cinderella he is approached by female and then male prostitutes I believe if I interpreted it correctly.

A children's show it isn't.

The choreography has very modern moments although definitely based in ballet vocabulary. But I don't think this is for someone looking for classical ballet really.

I think Ratmansky's Little Humpbacked Horse is actually more enjoyable.

Didn't see that this was posted for Australian Ballet.....I was speaking about the ballet itself (at the Mariinsky).....haven't seen the Australian Ballet's production.

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I read an article that said that in the Australian production Ratmansky would be revisiting his original version--but not redoing it from the ground up. Plus it's being redesigned as discussed above. I think redesigning it was a great idea as the designs for portions of the original production are very thin in sections, and not, in my opinion, in an interesting creative way. (Natalia has often complained the Mariinsky production looks cheap. I liked it in portions, but in other portions--basically anything that wasn't supposed to be the slum--I thought "yeah...it looks cheap.")

I have seen four full-length Ratmansky ballets, but as chance would have it each of them exactly one time. Though I found his 'original' Cinderella the most uneven in quality (high highs and low lows) it was the only one that left me feeling absolutely confident that the best parts of the choreography would hold up to repeated viewings. For example I found the pas de deux for the leads in the ballroom scene, and again when they are reunited, more intrinsically interesting than the pas de deux for the leads in Bright Stream--even if the latter, with the masked wife dancing with her would-be cheating husband--has a lot of plot interest/pathos built into its situation.

But...as Birdsall indicated, it's not exactly a conventional family fairy tale ballet. (I do find it very classical though.) I most certainly would love to see the revised/redesigned Australian version.

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Ah, that makes much more sense.

I'm very curious about Ratmansky's work -- I've been so impressed with what I've seen, on a basic ballet-kinetic level particularly. So much of the work we see is incorporating other dance traditions or styles with ballet, and some of it is fascinating, but I'm still convinced there's more we can do with the language of ballet itself. I guess I'm looking for more direct descendants of the technique -- just as Balanchine reconfigured classical material to suit his own interests without turning away from the technique, I'd like to see how someone versed in classicism would translate it for the 21st century.

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I attended two performances of Ratmansky’s Cinderella in London during the Australian Ballet’s tour in July. It’s been noted more than once that the production performed by the Australian Ballet (2013) differs so much from the version he staged at the Mariinsky (2002), that they can considered separate works. My familiarity with the Mariinsky version is minimal, so I can’t make any comparative observations.

The ballet opens with a mournful solo for Cinderella during the overture. A prominent feature of the first act is a giant portrait of Cinderella’s mother that rolls out from the downstage left wing. On the opposite site of the stage there is an overturned sign that reads “theater” in Russian, using the pre-Revolutionary orthography. Curtains covering passageways at the back suggest that other parts of the old building have also been converted into ersatz living quarters.

There is a washing line hanging across the stage. Behind the batches of hanging laundry are stools that seat Dumpy, the Stepmother and Skinny, and from behind each of them emerges a frantic hairdresser. Dumpy is given a ball-like hairpiece attached to the top of her head, while Skinny receives a cylindrical one. The Stepmother is furious about her wig and launches into an angry solo, which scares off the hairdressers. Left alone, Cinderella dances another solo in which she imagines her stepsisters doing her chores. Her father returns home with two dubious-looking drinking companions. The Stepmother is furious at this, chases them off and tears the portrait of Cinderella’s mother. The Fairy Godmother, dresses in floor-length gray coat, bowler hat, Maude Frickert wig, glasses and prosthetic nose, emerges through the frame of the destroyed portrait and comforts Cinderella. Incidentally, the Fairy Godmother never alters her appearance, so it can’t really be considered a disguise used to test Cinderella’s kindness to an old woman. The Stepmother chases off the stranger, and a lesson with a dandyish dancing teacher ensues, which features jokes about how difficult Dumpy is to partner because of her weight, and the Stepmother being left to sink gradually into a groin-stretching split.

Cinderella dances another solo before the Fairy Godmother returns. The walls of the room slide into the wings, and wildly dressed dancers representing the solar system run in through a fringed curtain at the back to perform a divertissement in lieu of the usual four seasons variations. There is a trio for Mercury and two stars, followed by a languid solo for Venus. Next there is a rapid and rather frivolous duet for Mars and Neptune, followed by a pas de deux for Jupiter and Saturn. Set to the heavy and dissonant “autumn” music, the sight of (male) Jupiter manhandling (female) Saturn made for unpleasant viewing. Finally there was a quartet for the Sun, Moon, Venus and Earth. Uranus appeared only during the ensemble dances at the beginning and end. Since Cinderella is off stage during most of the divertissement, there is no particular mystery or magical stagecraft to her costume change, although an enormous skirt emerges from under the Fairy Godmother’s coat to form a giant clock face. Twelve of her doppelgangers holding numerals I-XII come from upstage left to warn Cinderella of when the enchantment will wear off. There is no magical carriage, and the curtain falls on Cinderella already standing in the ballroom, although she is not there when the second act begins.

The ball is a somewhat unisex affair, with women dressed in pant suits and men often engaging in “feminine” poses, such as resting their fingertips on their shoulders. A favorite choreographic motif is the men dragging their partners forward on the soles of their pointe shoes. There follow solos for the Stepmother, Dumpy and Skinny. The Stepmother’s choreography is easy enough to identify: it’s very brash and athletic, with lots of high kicks. Dumpy’s includes lots of turns to emphasize roundness, and hops on pointe to compact the line of the legs and make her appear lower to the ground. Unfortunately, Skinny’s choreography doesn’t really have much to do with her supposed body type. The sole joke of her variation consists in her repeatedly hiking up her skirt to expose her undershorts as she prepares to perform a step. I’m sorry Ratmansky failed to develop a characteristic dance vocabulary for the character. You’d think pelvis-inverting contortion in the manner of Zakharova, Somova et al. would have been an obvious place to start--a parody of the hyper-attenuated, hyperextended contemporary ballerina, who is often very skinny indeed.

The Prince enters with a high-flying solo, although I have to say that he is seriously hampered by Jérôme Kaplan’s costume designs. The high-collared shirt and boxy tuxedo jacket that rides up make even the long-necked male principals look hunched. There is a quartet of men described as the Prince’s Friends, although since they are dressed in identical short-panted suits, they look more like footmen. Their dance was the only one that fell flat with the audience, although not for lack of trying. It’s very difficult, but it isn’t effective.

Unlike every other guest, Cinderella does not make a grand entrance down the staircase. She suddenly appears center stage in a swirly, starry spotlight, but unseen by everyone except an old footman, who takes her cloak. Couples enter and walk past, but no one notices her until the Prince enters and sees her. The waltz that follows is almost entirely a duet, and eventually it becomes clear why--the women were off stage changing their costumes. When the music changes to a more agitated and dissonant sound, we see Cinderella somewhat frantically searching for someone who can tell her what time it is. What I found odd about the pas de deux was Ratmansky changed tempos much more often than I would have expected. It wasn’t a matter of the occasional use of rubato; the different sections of the waltz sometimes had conspicuously different tempos, and it was strange to me that Ratmansky should have indulged in one of the worst of Russian stage practices.

When the party guests return to the ballroom, the women are now wearing full-skirted dresses, apparently inspired by Cinderella’s example. Cinderella’s long variation become more of a pas d’action. She begins by performing cautious variations on what are presumably social dancing steps, interspersed with encouragement from the Prince and polite applause from the other guests. The Prince’s variation is more conventionally straightforward. When the Stepmother and stepsisters return dressed in pant suits, they are distressed to find all the other women now in dresses.

The second duet for Cinderella and the Prince takes place in a garden, represented by two rows of tall quasi-conical bushes covered in something resembling Astroturf. During the duet the protagonists appear to communicate in fluttering hand movements, which are reminiscent of mime, but without specific meanings. The music, I have to note, was played wonderfully by the Orchestra of the English National Opera. When the clock strikes midnight, the bushes spin around and become giant, menacing metronomes. The most affecting moment in the ballet comes when Cinderella stands center stage again, but now dressed in her rags, and the Prince does not recognize her.

Act 3 begins with the women of the court trying on the lost shoe. The Prince has to contend with another difficult costume, performing his next variation while wearing a trenchcoat. He embarks on a journey in search of Cinderella, against a backdrop of hideous projections, and encounters first a group of seven women, whose leader is interested in the shoe, and then a group of seven men, who try to dissuade him from continuing his journey.

Back in Cinderella’s home, she encounters Dumpy, still giddy from the ball the night before and apparently willing to be quite friendly, until Skinny comes in and puts a damper on the whole affair. The sisters and Stepmother are still wearing pant suits, but their hairpieces have been replaced with hats that look like giant, inverted shoes. (Think Katherine Helmond in Brazil.) When the Prince and his quartet of friends arrive the three women all attempt to fit into the shoe, until the Prince sees Cinderella holding the other half of the pair. The ballet concludes with a gentle pas de deux back in the ballroom. There is no apotheosis, and while the visual image of the Prince curled up in Cinderella’s lap at the conclusion of their duet is touching, from a musical standpoint this ending is very unsatisfying.

Ratmansky’s version is vivid and fun, but I have difficulty imagining it becoming a classic still performed by companies the world over 25 years from now. Choreographically, the ballet isn’t especially inventive, and many of the unconventional touches designed to put a twist on the classical vocabulary I had seen before in other ballets. And I’m honestly uncertain whether Kaplan’s designs, which are easily the most striking and memorable aspect of the production, add interest to the ballet or are a very garish distraction from it. Sigh. It’s a tough score, and the quest for a fully satisfying choreographic rendering of it continues.

However, if I could, I’d send about three dozen long-stemmed roses to Amber Scott for her performances of the title role, which was luminous, exquisitely lovely and delicately poignant, magical in her first appearance at the ball and heartbreaking at its conclusion. This is a really special ballerina, and I’m so sorry not to have regular opportunities to see her dance. (Although now that the Australian Ballet is entering the cinema market, I hope at least to be able to see her on the big screen.)

Ako Kondo was a more sanguine and confident heroine, but not nearly as touching at this stage. She is a dancer of an entirely different emploi: glittery virtuosa to Scott’s lyrical tragedienne. I am not certain, but this may have been Kondo’s debut run in the role, so there is every reason to believe her interpretation will acquire more layers with time.

Valerie Tereshchenko was a physically committed Stepmother, although Amy Harris was additionally adept at slapstick comedy. There were also fine performances from Eloise Fryer as Dumpy, in her final appearance with the company, and from Dimity Azoury as Venus and Cristiano Martino as Neptune, with his wonderfully fluid and pliant upper body. Speaking of which, the company was not entirely unified in its approach to Ratmansky’s style. Some danced the choreography in an extremely upright sort of way, while others had a lot of bend in their torsos. I am inclined to think the latter would be Ratmansky’s preference.

Finally, I was very glad to see Steven Heathcote as Cinderella’s Father, however feckless his character may have been. I had not seen the Australian Ballet live since its U.S. tour in 1990, when he was one of its young stars. That generation of dancers is still hugely influential within the company. David McAllister, whom I’d seen as Albrecht back then, now directs the troupe, Fiona Tonkin is his second in command, and Lisa Pavane runs the school. So more than a quarter century later, the company does not seem entirely alien to me, and I’m very glad to see it doing well.

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What a great report -- many, many thanks for this.

I understand your misgivings about this not being a Cinderella that will last (as some other productions of other ballets do), and I'm wondering which Cinderellas (Ashton and who else?) fit that category? And what is it that this production lacks that would put it in company with those other works.

There's a thread here somewhere of a post-viewing discussion of the Ashton -- I think I should delve back into that...

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I understand your misgivings about this not being a Cinderella that will last (as some other productions of other ballets do), and I'm wondering which Cinderellas (Ashton and who else?) fit that category? And what is it that this production lacks that would put it in company with those other works.

It seems to me that in his quest for movement invention, Ratmansky resorts to quirkiness rather developing his fundamental dance vocabulary in creative ways. No doubt the quirkiness is his response to the score. I have misgivings about the Ashton version, too, primarily the panto grotesqueness of the stepsisters, and I'm also not convinced that the pancake-tutu formality of his ballroom scene really fits with the music. But what we can admire about Ashton's choreography is the inventive adaptation of his classical vocabulary. In this ballet you could say that Ratmansky relies a lot on "slangy" steps, which can be bracing initially, but I suspect that with repeated viewings their effectiveness will wear off.

However, I must emphasize that I've only seen the ballet twice in a single day, and only additional viewings could confirm my initial impressions.

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That's an interesting comment about Ratmansky's use of classical vocabulary ("resorts to quirkiness rather developing his fundamental dance vocabulary in creative ways.") -- I've not seen much of his work yet, but it seemed to me that in both his Don Quixote and in his works from scratch (Concerto DSCH and the Shostakovich trilogy) he does work directly with ballet in a distinctive fashion while keeping the classical integrity intact. There is something about the way that he has his dancers pass through 5th position that seems very different than the neo-classical, Balanchinean works I'm most familiar with -- I've asked a couple performers about this, and they say that yes, he has them do things that they hadn't ever really imagined, but that seem to work just fine. That's the furthest I've gotten with this observation, but my local company is getting his Pictures at an Exhibition this spring, so I'll get another chance to mull this one over.

As far as Ashton's use of pantomime conventions is concerned -- it's not a part of my growing-up life, so it always seems a bit distinctive to me, like watching a new ethnic dance tradition, but friends who grew up with that as a part of their theater life say it's a welcome and familiar reference, especially in something that's supposed to have a family element to it.

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