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Ok, this is a potentially stupid question, but since I'm told that this is the forum for stupid questions I'll post it anyway. ;)

Next week, I'm going to go and see Cinderella performed by the Finnish National Ballet. I know practically nothing about the production, except what the brochure says: music by Sergei Prokofjev, coreography by Ben Stevenson. Evil stepsisters danced by male dancers.

As I'm not an experienced ballet goer, and so I'd like to ask anyone who knows something about this ballet tell me whatever it is that you think I want to know about it beforehand.

Outline of the acts (I'll buy the program once there, of course, but it would be nice to hear about it beforehand, too)? Any famous / thrilling parts of coreography or technically interesting / challenging parts I want to watch for? Trivia that I can use to impress my equally unexperienced company? :( Something else I want to know?

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It was over thirty years ago that I stood in the wings of a theatre in Miami Beach, FL and watched Margot Fonteyn as Cinderella in The National Ballet of Washington's production of Ben Stevenson's 'Cinderella'.

I remember some of the choreography and I think it was beautiful, though I was a newcomer to full lengths and ballet in general, when I saw it.

I enjoyed the transformation of the beggar woman into the Fairy Godmother, with a flash by the fireplace. I was dazzled by the magic of the transformation of Cinderella from rags to riches (a short tutu). Ben Stevenson and Frederick Franklin as the ugly stepsisters were over the top and hysterical. Kirk Peterson as the Jester was a technical whiz. I remember liking the dragonflies with the Fairy Godmother and the variations of the four seasons.

But all of these memories are through the eyes of a child. I will look forward to adult reviews of Stevenson's 'Cinderella'.

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I would familiarise yourself with the music before going. It's fairly programmatic, so it's easy to follow what you can expect to be happening - once you know the 'libretto'. A complete recording should have an outline of the scenes/dances.

I was "raised" on the Ashton version and loved the male sisters. I have very fond memories of them being played by Ashton and Helpman.

I hope you enjoy the performance. :(

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Jaana and Old Fashioned, please let us know about the two versions of Cinderella that you both are going to see - or in your case, Old Fashioned, that you hope to see! :)

I've never seen Cinderella...though I may have seen it on a video at some point? Sometimes I think my imagination may have tricked me into believing I ever saw it at all...must have been due to reading the story all those times...

By the way, Jaana, I am really glad you did ask this question here on Discovering Ballet and that several of the board's more knowledgeable members responded so quickly as well.:)

Again, please do write a follow-up to this post once you've been to your performances of Cinderella, OK? Just think of it as your "first draft" forum. ;) I promise we're a good audience.

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How interesting Doris R - just think of all the different points of view we'll be able to read if everyone posts about their "own" performances?

I'll also be interested, especially in light of all the recent press about what's original and what's not, to hear about the differences, as well as the similarities.

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Herewith some info to help your enjoyment/impress your friends.

Sergei Prokofiev (b 1891) first showed an interest in writing for the ballet when he met Diaghilev in London in 1914. Diaghilev asked him to write a ballet for his company, the famous Ballets Russes, but the result, Ala and Lolly, (from Scythian mythology) was rejected by Diaghilev. The composer, not wanting to waste his efforts, turned the score into The Scythian Suite for concert performance (though that was later choreographed at the Berlin State Opera). Prokofiev then turned to writing a ballet based on a Russian story; this was Chout (French spelling for the Russian for ‘Buffoon’). The first version of the musicwas ready in 1915, but it was the revised version (1920) that was presented by Diaghilev in Paris in 1921 when the fortunes of the Ballets Russes began to revive after the 1st World War. In 1927 Diaghilev presented Prokofiev’s Le Pas d’Acier (generally referred to in English as The Age of Steel). Choreography was by Massine. This has no continuous plot but shows scenes from Soviet daily life, ending with machine dances in a factory. It was intended as a tribute to the constructivist art of the new USSR. In 1929 Diaghilev presented Prokofiev’s next ballet, The Prodigal Son, again in Paris. This turned out to be the last commission for Diaghilev before his sudden death in August of that year. The Prodigal Son was choreographed by Balanchine. Prokofiev was not overjoyed by the style of the choreography, which he thought contained too many tricks derived from the circus and acrobats; the story is presented in an expressionist style, a strong contrast to Balanchine’s neo-classical interpretation of Stravinsky’s Apollo of a year earlier.

Despite the brilliant success of his music in the West (listen especially to his 3rd piano concerto), Prokofiev never really felt settled away from his native Russia. After producing another ballet score, Sur le Borysthène, for Lifar in Paris (f.p. 1932), he returned to the USSR in 1933. This was not an easy time for creative artists in Russia; the doctrine of ‘socialist realism’ had just been propounded and the arts were more and more heavily controlled as Stalin’s grip tightened. An important ballet of this era was The Red Poppy, first produced at the Bolshoi in Moscow in 1927. The music for this ballet was written by Glière, with whom Prokofiev had studied in 1902. Set in China, it tells of a dancer who, having been exploited by a Chinese capitalist, gives her life to save the leader of the revolutionary crowd, allowing revolution to prosper in China as well as among the Soviets. The ballet was often revived in the USSR, but the title was changed to The Red Flower to avoid associations with opium!

During the 1930’s Prokofiev turned to writing film music, producing the brilliant scores for Lieutenant Kijé (1934) and Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky (1938). In 1936 he produced that great favourite for children of all ages, Peter and the Wolf, for orchestra and narrator. In the same year he provided the dance world with what has become one of the most popular of ballet scores, Romeo and Juliet. The project had started in 1934, at the suggestion of the Kirov Theatre (now known as the Maryinsky, its former name) in Leningrad. The Kirov then backed out, and a contract was signed instead with the Bolshoi in Moscow. When Prokofiev finished the score, the Bolshoi considered the music unsuitable for dance, so attention turned back to the Ballet School in Leningrad, which was considering the score for its bicentenary. They decided against it. The first performance was therefore given in Brno, Czechoslovakia in December 1938.The Soviets eventually caught up with the action when the ballet was produced by the Kirov in 1940 with choreography by Lavrosky. Composer and choreographer had met in 1938, when some changes were made to the score. The leading dancers for the première were Ulanova and Sergeyev.

In 1941 Prokofiev began work on the massive opera, War and Peace. He also continued to write much other music including his most heroic symphony, the 5th, in 1944. Nevertheless, despite its success, he was among those condemned in the Soviet press for ‘formalism’ (i.e. a suggestion that his music was too intellectual, emphasising form as opposed to content, and resulting in sounds that are too ‘modern’ and discordant). Along with others, he was compelled to ‘confess’ his faults in an open letter to the Union of Soviet Composers. Prokofiev’s music had often adopted a hard-driven style, with pungent harmonies involving strange twists and turns, and exhibiting a somewhat sardonic sense of humour. However, it was back in 1929 in the score for The Prodigal Son, that Prokofiev had begun to show again a more lyrical side to his character. Lyricism abounds in Romeo and Juliet (1936), along with his other attributes. In his youth he had indeed been regarded at times as far too dissonant and avant-garde (Ala and Lolly has some particularly strident sounds).

The music for Cinderella was begun in 1940, but other commitments during World War II delayed work on the project. The ballet was first produced at the Bolshoi in Moscow in November 1945, with choreography by Zakharov (the libretto was by Volkov). The review of that production in Pravda was written by another great Russian composer, Dmitri Shostakovitch, who remarked that “Balletic art has taken an important step forward”. In 1946 the ballet was staged in Leningrad. Prokofiev himself said of the ballet that the main thing he wanted to portray was the poetic love of Cinderella and the Prince, the birth and flowering of this love, the obstacles that stood in its way and the dream of happiness that finally comes true. He worked closely with Volkov on the dramatic aspect of the ballet, and said that although Cinderella exists in fairy tales of all countries he wanted to present her as if from a genuine Russian fairy tale. In the Russian version there is usually a stepmother, a character who does not appear in English versions. Like Frederick Ashton before him, Ben Stevenson adopts the English pantomime tradition of the stepsisters being played by men. Stevenson also omits the Prince’s search around the world, and changes the order of some of the music in the ballroom scene. The first performance of this version was given by The National Ballet at Washington, D.C., in April 1970. Reviewing the production in the New York Times, Clive Barnes was highly complimentary about the “unaffectedly classical choreography” as “a model of good taste”. The ballet was thought to be strongly influenced by Ashton, “yet not slavishly so”.

Prokofiev’s last ballet was based on another Russian legend, The Stone Flower; the story is based on fairy tales from the Urals. Life in the USSR was still very harsh, and fairy tales made for at least one way of escapism in those grim days. The score was completed in 1953, and a production was prepared, with choreography by Lavrosky. Sadly, Prokofiev did not live to see the première at the Bolshoi in 1954; ironically, having suffered so much under the Soviet regime, he died on the same day as Stalin in 1953.

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Thank you for this wealth of information!

The Age of Steel sounds like something I would really like to see.

Apart from the ballet information, the mention of no stepmother in the English versions of Cinderella also was interesting. Being from Finland, I find it hard to imagine the story without her. :)

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