The story of “Cinderella” is undoubtedly one of the most beloved of all time — so beloved that it has undergone countless remakes in various mediums. Those of us who grew up with the animated Disney film might recall a blonde girl with a fluttery voice, destined to scrub the floors and wait on her stepsisters’ and stepmother’s every whim. Her troubles are over, however, when her fairy godmother turns a pumpkin into a coach and her rags into riches — just in time for Cinderella to attend the royal ball and win Prince Charming’s heart.
Viewers who had expected a similarly lush, romantic and traditional version of the story might have been surprised by the Mariinsky Ballet and Orchestra’s rendition, which was performed from Oct. 1-4. But they certainly were not disappointed. The company performed its West Coast debut of Alexei Ratmansky’s “Cinderella” as a part of Cal Performances’ Berkeley RADICAL program, delivering a fresh take on the classic story.
The Mariinsky Ballet, currently under the direction of Yury Fateev, commissioned Ratmansky to choreograph and stage the work in 2002. His “Cinderella” is a completely new version of the fairy tale, set in the 1930s with sets and costumes evocative of the Soviet period, and music characteristic of a Stalinist “grand-style” ballet. Ratmansky created the titular role for the celebrated Diana Vishneva, who is the prima ballerina of both the Mariinsky Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre. Nadezhda Batoeva, Anastasia Matvienko and Kristina Shapran also performed as Cinderella throughout five shows at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall.
Although viewers were initially disoriented seeing the stepmother and stepsisters flouncing about in modern bathrobes and brightly colored wigs, and the four-season fairies in neon spandex rather than shimmering tutus, viewers found that the wit of Ratmansky’s rendition kept the ballet familiar and enjoyable. Sofia Gumerova was hilarious as Cinderella’s lanky, fiery stepmother. Her flailing limbs and unbelievably long extensions perfectly embodied her jealousy. The stepsisters, played by Ekaterina Chebykina and Sofia Ivanova-Soblikova, danced with hilarious facial expressions and comedic timing, even if their immense height disparity rendered their movements slightly out of sync. The trio especially shone in the dance lesson scene. The audience laughed heartily as mother and daughters attempted to learn the waltz (with awkward and disastrous results).
Ratmansky’s talent for giving a modernist slant to a classic ballet was especially evident in the sumptuous ball scene. His inventive use of sets (including a massive, illuminated circle that conveniently served as both a chandelier and a clock) as well as the stunning scarlet-and-black gowns of the ball attendees satisfied those who yearned for the traditional enchantment of the tale. The company members maintained the technical excellence synonymous with Mariinsky while still executing more contemporary movements (such as playful hints at the twist and jive) with humor and clarity. When Cinderella entered the ball clad simply in resplendent white, the Prince (danced by Vladimir Shklyarov) grew ebullient in his movements and performed a series of impressive leaps and dizzying turns. The two danced well together, though both were more remarkable for their expressive acting rather than a particularly prodigious execution of the choreography. Their bashfulness at the first waltz was painfully (yet adorably) reminiscent of that heart-pounding, terrifying first middle-school dance with your crush. In fact, with the combination of the anachronistic costumes, the Dali-esque draping and melting of the four-season fairies, and Prokofiev’s somewhat eccentric score, it was easy to forget you were even watching “Cinderella.”
But that all changed when the glass slipper came into play. One of the most stunning scenes in the ballet came when the Prince and Cinderella finally found one another, thanks, of course, to her infamous shoe. High up on the rafters and above the petty squabbles of the rest of the world, they shared a gentle and graceful kiss. It was a kiss that transcended the unconventional or discordant aspects of the ballet, with a reminder that this was, after all, a romance and that there would be a beautiful, happy ending.
Contact Madeline Zimring at [email protected].