The Australian Ballet

Cinderella Profiles: The Stepsisters

Oh, those wicked Stepsisters! With their zany costumes and me-me-me antics, they come perilously close to stealing the show in Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella – and many of you have told us that this dreadful duo was your favourite part of the ballet.

How do you make dancers ugly and ungainly? Frederick Ashton solved the problem by having his Stepsisters played by men in drag and clownish prosthetics (in the original version of his production, he and Robert Helpmann played the roles, drawing on the English vaudeville tradition). Ratmansky has choreographed brilliant slapstick routines for the Stepsisters – tripping all over themselves (and the dance master) in their dancing lessons, showing off cringe-worthy moves in the ballroom and of course, falling foul of that just-won’t-fit slipper!

Jerôme Kaplan’s hilarious costumes for the Stepsisters do part of the work for Ratmansky. In the original Russian libretto for Cinderella, the Stepsisters are called Skinny and Dumpy, a tradition that Ratmansky has followed in his production. Kaplan uses balloon skirts to make the two sisters into a beanpole and a pumpkin, then adds knee socks under their pointe shoes, towering wigs and garish make-up to make two visions only a Stepmother could love.

Prokofiev also comes to the party. Music Director and Chief Conductor Nicolette Fraillon says, “Whenever they come on stage it’s very comic because Prokofiev uses the lowest instruments of the orchestra: tuba and contra bassoon, combinations of instruments that together sound clumsy and stupid, because that’s what the girls are. And rhythmically he puts a fast melody on the trumpet, resulting in an awkward, humorous sound.”

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Ben Davis, Halaina Hills and Amy Harris. Photography Marisa Ho

Dumpy and Skinny Arriving at the Ball

Jerôme Kaplan’s design for the Stepsisters’ Act I ball costumes.

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Robyn Hendricks. Photography Lynette Wills

Perhaps the ladies’ finest hour comes when they perform at the ball, showing off to impress the Prince’s court. Here’s Skinny, making sure where her feet are before busting out her solo.

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New coats – squeal! Halaina Hills, Amy Harris and Robyn Hendricks.
Photography Lynette Wills

In many versions of Cinderella, you heartily despise the Stepsisters: in Ratmansky’s, you can’t help but love them. Sure, they’re vain, spiteful, clumsy and selfish: but they also have a touch of vulnerability and a squeal-y enthusiasm that makes them sort of endearing. And oh, what fun they are to watch!