Cartoonish vibes in choreographer Alexei Ratmansky's ultimately glorious Perrault adaptation
This article is from 2012.
As with contemporary productions of Shakespeare, the measure of a fairytale ballet isn't so much the story but what you do with it. Here choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, who created the piece for the Mariinksy in 2002, has chosen to bring a cartoonish vibe to Perrault's tale in a setting that feels a bit like a fairytale Gotham City. The eponymous heroine plays drudge in a swanky industrial loft to a wicked stepmother wearing a crazed orange Anna Wintour wig, and the four seasons who traditionally turn her into the belle of the ball are superhero figures in bold lycra catsuits.
From the outset Ratmansky's choreography stamps its playful parodic marks all over the stage, not least in Ekaterina Kondaurova's stepmother, who sizzles with malice, foot-stomping, bent-kneed and whipping her legs into a signature kick that sums up ballet-speak for villain. Strong characters abound in this vision, even extending into the ballroom scene where partner dancing turns into a stuffy upper crust conga, and pointe work is used to create ugly wiggling walks, a subversion of its usual role in articulating eloquence.
While the storytelling is fun and fresh, and makes you reconsider Prokofiev's score in light of its hyperactive rhythms - and mischievous passages you could be duped into believing Danny Elfman had written - it does leave you yearning to see the dancers from one of the world's most lauded ballet companies dance, and dance beautifully.
Thank goodness then for Diana Vishneva's Cinderella, luminous, sprightly and dancing her heart out in solos and pas de deux. She starts out toy-like and girlish, her arms swooning around, then seems to develop a sophisticated awareness of her own body at the ball, savouring each gesture, allowing a phrase to stretch all the way down through her fingertips. She makes the most demanding feats look completely effortless and as a result they are able to soak through with emotion. Ratmansky's ballet may begin with ugly sisters and brassy artifice but it ends in pure beauty.
Edinburgh Festival Theatre, run now ended.