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Cinderella in Manhattan

Unlike opera, the more traditional ballet is not updated or recontextualized as much by new choreographers -- with a few notable exceptions, like Alexei Ratmansky, formerly of the Bolshoi in Moscow and now of American Ballet Theater. In his choreography of Prokofiev's Cinderella, which the Mariinsky Theater brought back to the Kennedy Center Opera House last night (the troupe performed it here in 2005), Ratmansky has reconceived the classic Perrault fairy tale in modern Manhattan, centering the story on a benignly neglected, artistically sensitive kid bounced between an alcoholic, do-nothing father and a high-strung, fashion-obsessed stepmother -- in short, someone likely everyone in the audience knows, or perhaps is. The contemporary setting and more jagged, modern dance-influenced choreography suits Prokofiev's barbed score in many ways, but one waits a long time for some ballet itches to be properly scratched (the climaxes of both pas de deux are undermined, for example), and some never are, like a grand, satisfying scene for the corps de ballet.

As he did in his new Nutcracker for ABT, also heavy on pantomime and slapstick, Ratmansky turns back to the grotesquerie of early court ballet: the most memorable parts of the choreography are broadly comic. The erratic movements of Ekaterina Kondaurova's orange-wigged Stepmother are all sharp legs and elbows. The black-clad avant-garde dance teachers (Nadezhda Batoeva and Islom Baimuradov) are caricatures of arbiters of taste in trendy New York. The Four Seasons (Ilya Petrov, Alexey Popov, Maxim Zyuzin, and Andrey Solovyov) dart and peck in avian costumes and movements, and the fairy godmother is a hunched-over homeless woman on the street. On his search for Cinderella, the Prince -- a sort of nerd-in-chief who carries around the fallen glass slipper in a maroon fanny pack (a touch that got the loudest guffaws on Tuesday night) -- falls in with a squad of hard-talking prostitutes and a mincing crew of gay men in bright blue.

Other Reviews:

Sarah Kaufman, Mariinsky’s ‘Cinderella’: A hard-edged fairy tale (Washington Post, October 18)

Catherine Pawlick, American tours U.S. with Mariinsky Ballet (San Francisco Chronicle, October 9)

Paul Hodgins, Perfection eludes Mariinsky in 'Swan Lake' (Orange County Register, October 3)
Minimal sets, designed by Ilia Utkin and Yevgeny Monakhov, give the impression of New York, its steel girters and fire escapes, its monochromatic skyline of faceless tall buildings on the screen that marked off the three acts (with two intermissions making for a long evening in the theater). The only moment of backdrop beauty, sort of, was the neoclassical grandeur of the prince's palace, like a museum, although the corps was given only herky-jerky movements for laughs at their pomposity. The lead role was entrusted to a younger dancer, second principal Maria Shirinkina, who was pleasingly naive and girlish, able to show the transition to dancerly grace of this otherwise awkward, shy young woman. Principal dancer Vladimir Shklyarov was forthright and earnest as the prince, in his spazzy white formal wear and fanny pack, although Ratmansky's play at classical ballet was curious, having the Prince do a series of classical leaps only to peter out in bemused exhaustion. The musical score is not that easy to put together, as shown by the occasionally discombobulated performance by the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, not quite galvanized by Mariinsky conductor Mikhail Agrest. Traditional balletomanes looking for a big wedding-cake confection will likely be disappointed, as Miss Ionarts was just a bit, but for anyone wondering about ballet outside the boundaries, this is something to see.

This performance will be repeated through October 21, in the Kennedy Center Opera House.


bronzino said...

Of course we are always pleased that Kirov visits DC every year, and of course I had to see Daria tonight (you remember her one performance as the demented snow maiden queen in that wonderfully creepy Nutcracker from a few years ago), but... is the ballet literature so slim that we are getting REPEAT performances of the SAME production of just seven years ago? The humour in 2005 and tonight was slight (drunkards and lots of falling down is not funny), and we waited and waited until we got a good PDD in second act. Why bring this back to the same audience that saw the same minimal BALLET dancing (vs. social dancing and acting) in 2005. Slight production of a weak ballet. Is there NOTHING else in the repetroire of the greatest ballet company in the world that they felt compelled to reheat this sorry bit for us to see yet again?

Charles T. Downey said...

I have to agree. Many folks who saw this in 2005 likely skipped the second chance to see it.

Anonymous said...

I was in St.Petersburg last summer,and of course wanted to see the 2-nd stage the old Kirov Theater built. I was disappointed in both, the ballet and the new building. In fact, if we take the Putin's law about gays seriously, the ballet dancers could be arrested (prince trying a shoe on a transvestite foot)) The only thing left of the old ballet was the beautiful Prokofiev music...