Mariinsky: Cinderella, Ratmansky Style
To be fair, I didn't hate everything about it. I liked some of Ratmansky's ideas: the stark industrial look in Act One, the Prince (Konstantin Zverev) being a sort of Fred-Astaire-type dancer instead of the traditional dull-as-potatoes-cavalier, the Stepmother as an oligarch trophy wife.
But overall the concept lacked magic, humor, and charm. The scenery (by Ulia Utkin and Yevgeny Monakhov) was monochromatic: one gray backdrop was lifted to reveal ... another gray backdrop, and then that was lifted and you saw ... yet another gray backdrop. The costumes were also a very mixed bag: I liked Cinderella's sweater dress and some of the 1930's styles in the ballroom scene but the seasons' 80's punk rock cutout bodysuits were a horror.
The choreography had some of the usual quirky Ratmansky humor but fell flat in the big moments: just when Prokofiev's score soars, Ratmansky's steps sag. For one, having the Prince be a sort of Fred-Astaire-type ballroom dancer was a good idea, but Fred needs a Ginger. Ratmansky gives Cinderella a bunch of rather generic, sad-sack steps and the two pas de deux are rather forgettable. Diana Vishneva (for whom the role was created) still has the waif-like build and saucer eyes, but she wasn't given much interesting material except in the second act, where she does have a nice solo. Vishneva is now in the twilight of her career and it's good to see her onstage with her home company, I guess. Konstantin Zverev has the Fred Astaire forehead but was somewhat wooden and he and Vishneva never sparked.
One of the most ill-conceived ideas was to have Cinderella's step sisters act like very bad dancers. First of all, it was obvious that Margarita Frolova and Yekaterina Ivannikova were impeccably trained Vaganova-trained dancers -- you can tell by their 180 degree turnout and rippling arms. Them impersonating stumbling, stuttering ballerinas had an arch, smug, too-cute-by-half feel: like, oh, look at their gorgeous feet as they fall. It wasn't funny. Sir Frederick Ashton had the right idea by making the Stepsisters wonderful en travesti dancers in the musical hall tradition. In that production, the Stepsisters' dancing becomes such a highlight that the audience laughs with the sisters.
Oddly the best choreography goes to the Stepmother: maybe it was Ekaterina Kondaouova's commanding presence, but the Stepmother stole the show. She camped it up as a Real Housewife of the Neva. Other small solos revealed the depth of talent in the Mariinsky corps: the lovely Yana Selina lit up the stage as the third act female dancer. I've seen Yana Selina since she toured with the Mariinsky maybe 10 years ago. And every time her huge smile and lovely presence brighten the entire performance, and I wonder why she's always been relegated to small variations and solos.
Another highlight was the dance instructor couple (Yuri Smekalov and Viktoria Brileva). Smekalov was smarmy and funny. Brileva is still in the corps but she's one to watch -- a real twinkle in her eyes and she was more adept at the Bob Fosse-faux-retro choreography than anyone else in the cast.
The Seasons choreography was also creative and fun, despite the horrid costumes. I liked the Winter variation where there was a row of snowflakes who bump into each other constantly. The four men of the seasons (Vasily Tkachenko - Spring; Ernest Latypov - Summer; Konstantin Ivkin - Autum; and Andrey Solovyov - Winter) looked and danced great despite the horror costumes they were given. Day-glo 80's punk? No, just no. The Fairy Tramp never became more than a total nuisance in Ratmansky's version.
As I said, Ratmansky's quirky humor is always a plus. But whether all these ideas come together to form a whole is another story. His Nutcracker was full of good ideas mixed with some frankly terrible ideas. On the other hand his Little Humpbacked Horse, Concerto DCSH, and Russian Seasons are great complete ballets. I have to put Cinderella in the "misses" column.
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