Having first dropped slipper in the Melbourne 2013 premiere, Alexei Ratmansky’s new staging of Cinderella confirms its status as an instant favourite of the repertory. Far from a safe, sweet storybook adaptation, Ratmansky’s bold, intriguing choices are anything but predictable. Combined with Jérôme Kaplan’s equally fascinating designs, this is a richly detailed, highly entertaining production that rewards repeat viewings.
Part of the enjoyment is the scope for different artists to share their interpretation of the main roles, which have a fluidly expressive quality rather than a tightly choreographed rigidity. The piece is also enhanced by the nicely balanced blend of cheeky humour and sweeping romance. With several traditional full-length ballets seen since this production premiered, the scope of Kaplan’s scenic design can be appreciated all the more. The sweeping scale and sumptuous details are striking, but it is the dynamic nature of the fluid scene changes that really set the production apart. Massive sets glide in and out with an integrated grace that would make the most lavish music theatre spectacle weak with envy. Combined with the judiciously selected and artfully created projections of Wendall K. Harrington, and the expert lighting of Rachel Burke, this is modern theatre of the highest calibre.
Kaplan’s textured, tactile costumes provide fascinating visual appeal. The swirling cosmos of personified planets, visited by Cinderella at the end of act one, are particularly attractive. Rarely is costuming such a key part of a narrative as in Cinderella’s ball scene: the women begin in smoky-hued pant suits then all promptly change to match Cinderella’s feminine cinched-waist dress. The Stepmother and Stepsisters, meanwhile, reappear in pantsuits only to find, to their dismay, that they remain out of step with fashion. The cut and colour Stepfamily’s costumes complement their humorous antics perfectly; the sight of Dumpy trying to stretch her short pink coat remains a delightful moment. One more word on design: the program notes provide an answer to the meaning of the setting for Cinderella’s home. The family lives in an old theatre, full of abandoned props and treasures that Stepmother has collected.
Maestro Nicolette Fraillon’s characteristic attention to detail results in a superb performance of Prokofiev’s majestic score by Orchestra Victoria. Dynamics are exquisite, with particularly tender playing heard from the violins as well as oboes and clarinets.
While it was disappointing not to have retiring Principal Artist Madeleine Eastoe dance Cinderella on opening night (as was originally listed on The Australian Ballet website), the opportunity to see soon-to-be-Aurora Lana Jones in the role proved to be most auspicious. In splendid form, Jones gives a superbly realised performance, making the massive role seem deceptively effortless and fully engaging the hearts of the audience. Jones deftly changes styles in line with the story’s emotional arc, as Cinderella moves from the pain and longing of loneliness to the beaming euphoria of love to the pain and confusion of heartbreak. Given Ratmansky’s sparing use of mime, Jones full command of facial and physical expression makes the storytelling crystal clear. With strength, suppleness and good looks to spare, Ty King-Wall is a fine partner for Jones. In a characterisation that is not as multidimensional as it could be, King-Wall mainly focuses on the sweet, kind-hearted aspects of The Prince, losing the transition from vainglorious playboy to tender lover. There is an element of sexual tension missing when The Prince encounters exotic Temptors during his journey to find Cinderella. Nonetheless, King-Wall and Jones’ three big pas de deux each achieve their distinctive character and are danced with rapturous beauty.
Valerie Tereshchenko, Ingrid Gow and Eloise Fryer successfully bring out the full hilarity, vanity and inanity of the deluded, self-serving Stepfamily. Tereshchenko captures the aggressively determined drive of Stepmother, and effectively contrasts her alternating pride and embarrassment in her daughters. Gow and Fryer play up the highly competitive nature of the siblings to great effect. The featured group of The Prince’s friends is brought to greater prominence by the sterling combined work of Christopher Rodgers-Wilson, Jarryd Madden, Rudy Hawkes and Brett Simon.
Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella is bound to thrill newcomers and dance lovers of all ages. Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella plays at State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne until 27 June 2015.
In this Year of Beauty, Man in Chair has also reviewed:
Madeline Eastoe and Danielle Gaudiello in Cinderella: “The consummate actress, Eastoe’s incredibly integrated performance completely blurs the lines between acting and dance.”
Madeleine Eastoe and Kevin Jackson in The Dream: “Chengwu Guo leaps about with such dynamic energy it almost looks like he is a magical effect that has been added using cinematic CGI.”
Madeleine Eastoe and Kevin Jackson in Maina Gielgud’s Giselle: “Lovingly restored to full glory, Maina Gielgud’s 1986 production of Giselle returns to its place as one of the most treasured jewels in The Australian Ballet’s repertoire.”
Photos: #2,3,4,7: Jeff Busby; #1,5,6: Lynette Wills