The Australian Ballet - Cinderella

Choreography Alexei Ratmansky, music Sergei Prokofiev
The Australian Ballet
London Coliseum

Leanne Stojmenov as Cinderella Credit: Jeff Busby
Jade Wood, Brett Chynoweth and Vivienne Wong in Alexei Ratmanksy's Cinderella for Australian Ballet Credit: Elliott Franks
Ingrid Gow, Amy Harris, Eloise Fryer in Cinderella Credit: Elliott Franks
Ingrid Gow and Eloise Fryer in Cinderella Credit: Kate Longley
Leanne Stojmenov as Cinderella Credit: Jeff Busby

This is not the Cinderella Alexei Ratmansky created for the Mariinsky Ballet in 2002, which it brought to the Edinburgh Festival in 2012, but a complete rethink, and what a rethink in 2013 for the exuberant Australian Ballet it is. Is he finished with it yet? He is obviously spilling with ideas.

As is his designer Jérôme Kaplan: costumes inspired by Dior, Schiaparelli, 1940s Hollywood, with Surrealist art (Magritte, Man Ray, Dalí) insinuated into his set design. And are these Soviet cosmos paintings mingling with Di Chirico in Wendell K Harrington’s projection design? “Fly me to the moon, let me play amongst the stars...”

Cinderella gets to do just that, dancing with the Moon, the Sun, the Stars, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Jupiter and Mars milky way flamboyant-costumed cabaret. Brett Chynoweth as Mercury stands out.

But before her Magritte bowler-hatted ‘Nanny McPhee’ Fairy Godmother can transport her to another world, we find Cinderella living in a patched-up theatre (its theatre sign in pre-1917 revolution Russian script lying on its side) with bricked-up windows, a potbelly stove (pechka burzhuika), and a line of washing across the room: communal living satirized by many Soviet writers. Who wouldn't want to escape into a dream world? Many did.

It’s obviously 1940s, just post-war, which is more or less when Prokofiev wrote the ballet. There’s a large classical portrait of her mother, a dark beauty, which her nouveau stepmother destroys in pique, and her father (dressed à la impresario Diaghilev) is a drinker (in Russia alcoholic circles a bottle is usually split between three, and lo, he brings two scruffy mates with him).

The Stepsisters’ dancing master is straight out of Molière or Gogol, and I spend more time looking for references and clues than at the dance. The Prince’s ballroom has St Petersburg Hermitage green malachite columns, but his dancing ‘Dalek’ garden topiary is something else, Man Ray metronomes, in fact.

The Prince wanders high and low, as does my attention, but mostly low, in search of the girl with the slipper. He is almost seduced by siren girls in a red shoe bar, and eastern boys in a red lipstick establishment, but like Odysseus he gets there in the end. And Stepmother, Skinny Stepsister and Dumpy Stepsister, after much foot stamping, accept Cinderella’s aristocratic entitlement.

A profusion of conceptual input almost does for the dance, if it were not for the excellence of the dancers. Leanne Stojmenov, a lovely dancer, is a patient sweet-natured Cinderella; Kevin Jackson’s white-suited cool dude celebrity Prince with his dazzling white smile has a tremendous leap; and Cinderella’s troublesome threesome, Amy Harris, Ingrid Gow and Eloise Fryer, give full gusto to their slapstick music hall and kick boxing turns.

Fabulous colour-coded outfits, elegant tuxedo suits and cocktail dresses for the women, Dior New Look we are told in the glossy programme notes, but where is the music’s dark drama, and Prokofiev’s iconic waltz does not send the planets or the heart spinning however well the Orchestra of English National Opera plays.

I read that Cinderella has earned the Company two Australian Dance Awards in 2014, for Outstanding Performance by a Company and for Principal Artist Leanne Stojmenov in the title role. It has also won two Green Room Awards in 2013 for choreography and visual design.

The audience response is more muted than last week for Swan Lake, and the audience is full of the great and the good of the dance world out in force to support their Antipodean colleagues.

Ratmansky’s expansive neoclassical choreography, infected with some grating modernisms (fist pumps), is undone by his compatriot’s musical complexity. He’s in good company. Many have tried before him: Frederick Ashton, Rudolf Nureyev, Christopher Wheeldon, Matthew Bourne, David Bintley, Ashley Page, David Nixon, Yuri Possokhov… with varying success.

David McAllister, Artistic Director of The Australian Ballet, says, “both productions have become signature works for the company. Both encompass our motto of caring for tradition, but also daring to be different.” One can’t argue with that.

Reviewer: Vera Liber