Go See Mariinsky Ballet's Cinderella at UC Berkeley
By Lou Fancher
Splendid visuals, polished dancing, lush orchestration and a 1930s-style torque on Charles Perrault’s 17th century fairy tale lifted Mariinsky Ballet and Orchestra’s West Coast premiere of Cinderella to contemporary spectacle.
The production commissioned and premiered by the centuries-old Mariinsky in 2002 arrived Thursday night at CAL Performances’ Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley looking anything but dated.
Bolshoi Ballet-trained Alexei Ratmansky’s sleek choreography and the marvels of Prokofiev’s score handled boldly by the orchestra and deftly by conductor Gavriel Heine, added luster to the production’s glamour. But surprisingly, opening night was a time of magic rising largely from less-often celebrated onstage collaborators.
Set designers Ilya Utkin and Yevgeny Monakhov have fashioned a marvelous environment that extends from a simple black-and-white scrim resembling windows in a cityscape to a grand ballroom that glows emerald green or dissolves in softer hues to add depth instead of color. In between, there’s the look of a West Side Story-like industrial warehouse district, with fire-escape staircases, a stunning fog-shrouded arbor of blue-toned trees, and a vast, barren stage with two black posts as the only architecture. At the appropriate time, an enormous abstract clock looms: spinning to suggest the story’s urgent moments or lighting up and rotating to become a chandelier. Dividing the space, offering a dancer a place to hide, or altering the color of Elena Markovskaya’s astute costumes, Gleb Filshtinsky’s lighting organized, amplified and in all ways enhanced the choreography, especially in large ensemble scenes.
Cinderella’s story is well-known and the three-act, nearly three-hour production takes license with character and costume more than with plot line. Here, the Fairy Godmother is a carpetbagger with the program designation “Fairy-Tramp”; the four seasons are punks arriving in green, red, yellow and blue outfits; the Prince appears at the ball dressed in all-shiny-white, like a Tommy Tune Broadway knock-off; the ugly stepsisters (Khudishka and Kubishka) favor fishnets, flaring mini-tutus, bare midriffs and a pop-rock awareness that a person might associate with Madonna or Taylor Swift.
It’s cheeky, as are moments in the choreography that show-off Ratmansky’s signature style; a melding of classical ballet with mime, ballroom, Busby Berkeley-like shenanigans, and dance floor moves one might see in a 1930s jazz club. On opening night, the impression was unremarkable until half-way through Act II, when Cinderella (Diana Vishneva) and the Prince (Konstantin Zverev) first meet. In this moment and continuing to the ballet’s end, Ratmansky’s choreography took a decidedly special flavor — a unique combination of movements or an exceptional capturing of the score’s musical nuances in the best offerings. Cinderella and her prince’s pas de deux in Act III soared without resorting to tricks or overwrought sentimentality. Unlocked by themes of love, lust and passion, or for whatever reason, the remaining 40 minutes proved Ratmansky worthy of the recognition he’s received that includes among other honors a 2013 MacArthur Fellow award, an appointment as Artist in Residence at American Ballet Theatre since 2009, and having his ballets in the repertoires of Royal Danish Ballet, the Royal Swedish Ballet, Dutch National Ballet, New York City Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, and others.
Of course, ballet is only worth its salt if the dancers are worthwhile. The Mariinsky’s tradition that began in St. Petersburg before Napoleon’s time and laid the groundwork for scores of legendary choreographers, dancers and composers continues to provide remarkable stars and impressive corps de ballet. On Thursday night, Vishneva was the perfect definition of a great ballet dancer: legs of steel, unflappable feet, gauzy and elastic upper body, with a face that lit up with childlike joy, squared itself in anger, sagged in grief, glowed luminous with love, and more. She wasn’t the only highlight: Anastasia Petushkova as the Stepmother was simply terrific — impressive ballon (jumps), articulate execution and comedic flare all wrapped up in her gorgeous frame. If Zverev portrayal of the Prince was rather wooden, double cabrioles (a jump in which a dancer’s legs beat against each other) and assured pirouettes pleased ballet technicians in the audience.