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Fairy dust: Cinderella.

No Pumpkins Here

By Mae G. Banner

State Ballet Theatre of Russia’s Cinderella

Proctor’s Theatre, Jan. 25

Cinderella, unfailingly kind and good even to those who wish her ill, is rewarded by the love of the Prince and release from a life of servitude. That’s all you need to know to appreciate the production by the State Ballet Theatre of Russia, the touring arm of the Voronezh State Theatre of Opera and Ballet established in 1961 and now making their debut in the United States.

State Ballet Theatre, led by Vladimir Vasiliev, is one of many companies that now tour the classic ballets in the United States and Europe following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Some productions of Cinderella focus on the heroine’s angst at the bad treatment of her stepmother and stepsisters; others play up the passion of love at first sight when the Prince discovers Cinderella at the ball.

This one, however, is pure confection, a lovely pastel fairy tale with a large investment in stylish costumes and beautiful sets. Even the white-bearded gnomes who bring Cinderella the goods to fit her for the ball are clad in soft grays and pastels. We see acceptance between Cinderella and the Prince, but not mad love. We see a pleasant, well-danced ball peopled by glamorous couples from around the world—actually, the Chinese, Arabic, Spanish and Polish dancers have all dropped in from Nutcracker—but, not a mysterious, “Who is that strange princess who appeared in a drift of fairy dust to enchant us?”

The lovers, quite young dancers, have good, but not great technique. Their most charming passages come in sequences of lifts and in sweet rounds of jetes that Cinderella and the Prince perform for each other way downstage in the shallow space of a foreshortened ballroom.

There is a strong comic streak, as there should be, in the roles of the silly stepsisters, one called the Poseur and one the Shrew; the imperious Stepmother, who doesn’t know what to do with these foolish, scrapping daughters; and especially in the Dancing Master, who visits Cinderella’s house with a ballet barre and tries to teach the inept sisters how to comport themselves.

The audience loved the Dancing Master, and he loved himself, too, giving us a knowing smile and a gleaming eye with every pirouette. He was fully present, enjoying every minute of the final comic turn when the sisters try hopelessly to fit their outsize feet into Cinderella’s glass slipper in order to win the Prince.

Note that the sisters are danced by women, not men as in most European productions, but the Stepmother is danced by a tall, hefty man who, like the Dancing Master, has a ball doing this role. Also, though the program notes describe the role of Cinderella’s browbeaten father and the role of the Beggar Woman (who enters the house, accepts the gift of Cinderella’s clogs, and then turns into a glamorous Fairy Godmother in black and silver sequins), there is no father onstage at all and the Beggar Woman’s part is so played down as to be incomprehensible. Maybe, this is because the troupe wasn’t yet well-enough rehearsed in this opening part of the story.

Sergei Prokofiev’s acerbic music, well-played, if a little slow, by a full symphony orchestra conducted by Yuri Anisichkin, saves the production from becoming sugary. I especially liked the fast-tempo waltz at the ball, just before the clock strikes 12 and Cinderella’s finery turns back to rags.

The Russians are better than American dancers at acting and mime, so that, when the stepsisters and Stepmother return from the ball and play out their adventures before the ragged Cinderella, we get the full effect of their abasement later, when they learn she is the Princess who treated them so kindly. In an instant, these snooty women bow down to one who they now see is their better. It’s fairy dust, all around.


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