This past weekend at BAM, Russia’s Mariinsky Ballet presented the New York premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s 2002 production of Cinderella. While Ratmansky is known for storytelling – often times to humorous effect – and whimsy, this piece predates some of his more recent, masterful works. The weaknesses show. There are some questionable choreographic and storytelling choices, and perhaps most frustratingly, he didn’t tap into the romance and sweeping qualities of Prokofiev’s score. Curiously dull ensembles that left much to be desired replaced opportunities for more expansive and rhythmic dancing.
Set sometime in the late 20th century, this production opens with three male hairdressers primping Cinderella’s stepmother and her two stepsisters, Khudishka and Kubishka. The trio is not evil so much as annoying and ridiculous. The stepmother, performed by Anastasia Petushkova on Sunday afternoon, has bright orange hair and two left feet, as illustrated by her inability to keep up when dance instructors arrive at her home to provide dance lessons prior to the Prince’s ball.
Cinderella, portrayed by Anastasia Matvienko, is not the most likeable character in this version. She spends a lot of time moping and reflecting on her childhood (her father is now a pitiful drunk), and collapses to the floor in a fit of tears no fewer than four times throughout the ballet. Her fairy godmother and the four seasons (performed by men) hardly exude any magical powers. When it’s time to send Cinderella to the ball at the end of Act I – at which point the audience hears Prokofiev’s dark, powerful waltz – the stage feels lifeless, with the exception of the magnificent rotating clock.
In Act II, the clock rotates and serves as a chandelier for the ball. Cinderella’s naivety is endearing as the prince pursues her, and their pas de deux is the most choreographically engaging part of the ballet. Yet her hysterical dashing around the ballroom as the clock strikes midnight is comical, with a line of guests frantically running after her. It is no match for the intensity of Prokofiev’s strings and percussion.
The prince’s search for the owner of the glass slipper includes encounters with male and female groups that try to take him off course by seducing him. But he perseveres, and is reunited with the sulking Cinderella at her stepmother’s house. While there are interesting moments here and there, Ratmansky’s production includes confusing storytelling and little real dancing aside from the central pas de deux. And where Prokofiev’s score brilliantly expands, the dancing seems to meekly retreat.