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Ballet Festival '03 - CINDERELLA, Feb. 22

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Mariinsky Theater – St. Petersburg, Russia

February 22, 2003

Kirov-Mariinsky Ballet


Cinderella – Natalia Sologub

Prince – Andrei Merkuriev

Stepmother – Irma Nioradze

Stepsister Khudishka – Viktoria Teryoshkina

Stepsister Kubishka – Elena Sheshina

The sunshine went into hibernation on Saturday, the second day of the ten-day festival. That did not seem to dampen the spirits of the audience, who entered the auditorium of the Mariinsky Theater to gaze upon a shockingly modern front curtain. Tonight, the flouncy blue-and-gold curtain by Golovin was replaced by a black-and-white depiction of New York City skyscrapers, thus portending an unusual night of dance from this usually ultra-traditional ballet company.

Alexei Ratmansky’s “Cinderella,” to the familiar Sergei Prokofiev score, premiered exactly one year ago. Anybody who read what I wrote back then knows that this was far from my favorite ballet. But I come with open mind, hoping for improvements. I am happy to report some rays of hope. Not many – some.

This is a stark, minimalist production designed by Ilya Utkin and Yevgeny Monakhov, with lighting by Gleb Filshtinsky. The main set consists of two tall metallic staircases on wheels, to the left and to the right, from which many of the ballet’s characters emerge and exit. These tall towers remind us of dingy fire-escape staircases in typical New York City apartments. They flank an open ‘dance space’ that is, strangely, blocked by two long, thin metal columns near the middle of the stage – which made me fear for dancers who might bump into them. Those two columns support a huge metallic wheel that, during the ballroom scene, flips up to resemble a chandelier with flickering candles. The only backdrops are very simple ‘flats’ depicting a coffered corridor for the ballroom and a row of tall cedar trees for the love scene/pas de deux.

The mostly-ineffective costumes, by Elena Markovskaya, range from grotesque-silly hot pink/black for the stepsisters (one of the sisters wearing padding to make her appear chubby), to shades of orange and red for ballroom ladies, to stark white for the prince…still resembling a milkman or the Ajax Man with a little white bow tie. Cinderella wore dingy grey in the apartment and white tulle/gold-sequined bodiced romantic tutu at the ball -- this costume being a HUGE improvement on the boring white sheath worn by Diana Vishnyova at the premiere last year.

On this second viewing, the production still looks and feels like an uncentered hodge-podge, lacking a unifying theme and vision. What is this? Where are we – New York, the Loire Valley, a 1920s speak-easy? Pick your pick – the wild variety of costuming and backdrops makes me wonder if the various creative talents in this production ever spoke to each other during the creative process, let alone agree on a ‘look.’ Perhaps all that matters is to have a ‘Moderne Look’ that can shock the babushkas in the 3rd-Tier seats and make them long for Marius Petipa? Throw whatever crap on the stage that looks different, cheap, anti-luxurious, anti-Mariinsky, anti-Petersburg? Create a couple of beautiful pas de deux in the midst of banal, flippant choreography for the secondary characters and the corps de ballet? Rather than shock us, the end result is BO-RING, despite some fantastic dancing. So on to the dancing.

With her slender-twig frame, red mop-top hair, and pale complexion, Natalia Sologub is a ragamuffin of a Cinderella. Thus, she was absolutely effective in portraying the pathos of a mistreated daughter, making the encounter with the prince magical. She is every bit, if not more, pliant and sinewy in movement than was Vishnyova in the role. Solugub is, to me, the most modern, anti-Petipa of Kirov-Mariinsky ballerinas. She moves as if possessing no bones – a dancing Gumby Doll – and is keenly sensitive to music. [These same qualities make her wonderful in the new ‘Nutcracker,’ which we’ll see later this week.] It’s too bad that so much of Ratmansky’s choreography is more dopey than serious, e.g., as the clock strikes midnight and Cinders runs away from the ball, she does ‘slow-motion-running’ movements facing the audience. Hardee-har-har.

Andrei Merkuriev overcame the ridiculous snow-white milkman costume by the power of his dancing and sincere acting as a romantic hero. His personality shines to the highest row of the auditorium. Like Sologub, he is a dancer who can MOVE…and barely miss hitting the two pesky columns in the middle of the stage!

As the conceited Stepmother with an orange hair bob, Irma Nioradze pushed the comedy over-the-top so that the laughs were missed. I far preferred Yulia Makhalina’s slightly-subtler rendition last year. What a waste of a fine ballerina’s talent is this role! The two stepsisters fared slightly better, especially Viktoria Teryoshkina as the tall and slender one, in a funny ballroom solo in which the pointe of one of her slippers seems stuck to the stage.

As the Dance-Teaching Pair, Ti En Riu and Alexei Semenov were among the saving graces of Act I. They were truly comical due to their understated aloofness and torso-thrusting movements, as they tried to teach a few steps to the three nasties.

In this version, the Fairy Stepmother is a matronly bag-lady, a change of character for the usually-glamorous Elena Bazhenova.

The ‘Fairies of the Four Seasons’ are, in this version, not the usual dainty ballerinas but hunky men in two-piece, brightly-colored spandex outfits and wild wigs. Each fairy is accompanied by a retinue of daffy ballerinas, e.g., Fairy Winter comes with eight girls in stiff-platter tutus with little cotton snowballs on the edges of the skirts. All four Fairies were fine, with tall and sinewy Ivan Popov particularly effective as Winter.

Act III featured two ‘stops’ on the Prince’s travels around the world, in search of the girl who lost her slipper at the ball: first, to a female bordello then…to an all-male-prostitute hang-out. Hardee-har-har. Two of the Kirov-Mariinsky’s most talented character dancers, Anna Sysoeva (a 2001 graduate with a Veronika Part figure) and Islom Baimuratov, went through the banal movements as best they could. One looks forward to the return to normalcy in tomorrow night’s ‘La Bayadere.’

Jeannie Szoradi

St. Petersburg, Russia

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Thank you for this, Jeannie. It gives a very clear picture of what this production is, not only what it looks like, but how it's constructed and the nature of the dancing (LOVE the milkman reference)! I can't say I'd get on a plane to see it! Ratmansky is getting a lot of commissions, but it doesn't sound as though he's the Russian Christopher Wheeldon :)

Are any of our St. Petersburgians going to these performances?

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Hi, guys, I'm back to US and can make some comments about performances of this festival.

I saw Ratmansky's Cinderella for the first time and my impression was, in general, positive. I saw the work of a very intelligent, musical choreographer, who showed to me a lot of new ideas with interpretation of a very difficult music. It was very interesting for me to follow the developement of charaters, specially in Natalya Sologub's dancing. She reminds me of young Natalya Makarova, who throw herself in the role complitely, allowing the character leads the motion.

The poor thigs (back to Ratmansky), that he, probably, didn't have the time to finish his work, so, some scenes, frankly careless. This is a crime, to use one of the best corps de ballet in the world in such way. Movements are primitive and, what's worse, it's a mixture of styles. I didn't get the final adagio of leading couple also. By all previous structure it has to be some break-through to another dimension, but Ratmansky repeated things, founded before.

I really wish to Ratmansky to stop dancing complitely and concentrate on only one thing - the choreography.

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