Young Russian dancers keep Cinderella on her toes
With its remarkable legacy of theatrical and musical traditions, St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Ballet boasts the best ballerinas and male bravura – the kind of dancing we’ve come to expect from the company that gave us Mikhail Baryshnikov, Rudolf Nureyev and Natalia Makarova. The Russians are convincing actors, as well, as seen in the return of Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella at the Kennedy Center through the weekend.
Maria Shirinkina, a second soloist in the Mariinsky Ballet Company, and principal dancer Vladimir Shklyarov perform a beautifully staged pas de deux, reminiscent of other great lovers like Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn, Mikhail Baryshinkov, and Gelsey Kirland. Her backbend seemingly touches the floor, her arms floating above, as she falls into her lover’s arms. Their bodies melt as the violins echo such sweetness. They soar together when the French horns and woodwind instruments crescendo. Shklyarov reminds one of a young Baryshnikov when he pulls off multiple pirouettes, then turns to his lover (or perhaps the audience) with an awesome smile and a cocky look-at-me.
Created in 2002 and performed at the Kennedy Center a few years later, Ratmansky’s Cinderella follows Prokofiev’s melancholy score much like the composer’s Romeo & Juliet. While the choreography suggests musical visualization, there are those lilting musical interludes that have us humming the melodies long after the ballet is over. From Cinderella’s first waltz (which takes place in a stark tenement house in an unidentified city during the Charleston era, perhaps) to the dramatic strike of the clock at midnight, this ballet is unique.
Unlike other ballet interpretations of the fairy tale, Ratmansky omits the gender-bender stepmother and stepsister roles usually danced by men. As the sinister stepmother, Ekaterina Kondaurova dominates the female dancers. She is brutal with her slashing legs (often near the face of our heroine) and outrageous temper tantrums, bouncing around the stage on one toe shoe! Love the orange-red wig, too, and the bizarre costumes, designed by Elena Markovskaya.
There are no pumpkin coaches or mice to lead Cinderella to the ball. Instead, the four seasons, Ilya Petrov (Spring), Alexey Popov (Summer), Maxim Zyuzin (Autumn), and Andrey Solovyov (Winter) silently watch over Cinderella throughout the ballet. Meanwhile the Fairy-Tramp, danced by Elena Bazhenova on opening night, bumbles along like a homeless woman with a knowing smile and a sense for justice.
When Cinderella and her prince fall in love in a midnight waltz to Sergei Prokofiev’s luscious score (performed live by the Kennedy Center Orchestra, conducted by Mikhail Agrest)., that’s the time to sit back and sigh and to marvel at the stagecraft and delight in the chemistry of the young couple dancing on stage.
Ratmansky shows his humorous side in the third act as the prince dashes throughout the city looking for the one who fits the sparkly shoe. At first he is lured into a house of prostitution, then a gay men’s salon. Frustrated, he reaches the abode of Cinderella’s “family.” The feisty feminist princess-to-be figures out how desperate he is and drops the matching shoe in his lap moments before he is about to give up on his search.
In the end the couple dances in the moonlight, at midnight, again.
Running Time: Two hours and 40 minutes, with two 20 minute intermissions.
The Mariinsky Ballet performs Cinderella today and tomorrow, Thursday and Friday, October 18-19, 2012 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012 at 1:30 and 8:30 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012 at 1:30 p.m. at The Kennedy Center’s Opera House – 2700 F St. NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.