Cinderella – everyone’s favourite rags-to-riches heroine. A sweet, uncomplaining drudge whisked from squalor by a magical benefactor and a handsome prince. In Alexei Ratmansky’s ballet, she’s more than that – this Cinders has spirit and passion, planet escorts, and a fabulous Dior-style gown to boot.
When we first see Cinderella, she’s slump-shouldered with exhaustion, hanging out the fine clothes of her Stepmother and Stepsisters. Abandoned by her weak-willed father and yearning for her dead mother, Cinderella may be worn down by her life of slavery, but she’s still got spunk. She dreams of setting her Stepsisters to work sweeping the floor and folding the laundry; she imagines herself free of her workaday woes and dancing at the ball.
Ratmansky is a highly musical choreographer, and his characterisations mirror the score. Chief Conductor and Music Director Nicolette Fraillon says that Prokofiev’s heroine is “not a depressed Cinderella, she’s feisty.” Nicolette describes the three themes that Prokofiev uses for Cinderella, one in a minor key to denote her sadness, and two in C major, giving us a sense of her beauty and goodness – and her complexity. Of the third, Nicolette says, “It uses a limited range and comes in on a flute, quite a girly instrument, like Juliet’s theme in Romeo and Juliet. The flute, like the pan pipe, gives you that back-to-nature theme. Yet there’s a harmonic change of colour that suggests there’s more to her than just being a pretty girl. And the way that theme develops isn’t straightforward, the accompaniment isn’t straight unison, it becomes more complex, giving you an idea this is a living, breathing girl.”
Whirled by kind planets and stars (not to mention the moon and the sun) to the Prince’s ball, Cinderella immediately shows her worth by helping the elderly footman gather up the folds of her cloak – unlike her Stepmother and Stepsisters, who have cavalierly piled him high with their extravagant coats. And unlike the snooty ball guests, who fawn all over the Prince while laughing at Cinderella behind their hands, she’s unaffected and sincere, dancing her sweet little dance she’s practised in her gloomy kitchen.
When midnight strikes and Cinderella comes down with a bump from the blissful heights of the ball, she’s forlorn and despairing … but also angry! In a beautiful bit of “feisty” choreography, she rolls over and kicks her feet against the ground in a fury.
Ratmansky avoids saccharine in Cinderella’s final love pas de deux with the Prince. This Cinderella won’t be a happy-ever-after pushover: her movement is fierce and questioning and passionate, and there’s as much talking (in a complex twinings of the hands and arms) as smooching. Somehow you just know that the harmony between them will be all the better for the piquant notes.
Cinderella charms Sydney this summer! Tickets