The Mariinsky came to Brooklyn! This year they chose BAM as their home away from home in NY. Believe me, it was a very big deal.
Even so, I still hemmed and hawed about buying tickets. Mainly because most of the performances were almost out of my price range. The affordable tickets sold out very quickly for their performances of Swan Lake. Because I really liked Ratmansky's version of The Nutcracker, I decided to forego Swan Lake in order to see his version of Cinderella.
This was one of Ratmansky's first choreography efforts so the production is a bit choppy in certain places. But nothing that would scream amateur. Unlike most productions which elide a few sections of the music, Ratmansky used the WHOLE score. This meant the production clocked in as a weighty 2 hours and 45 minutes. Anything that long is hard on the audience, especially little ones who everyone knows will be the main audience for a fairy tale adaptation. I suppose that is why they took pity on us and scheduled two very long intermissions. Still, a few judicious cuts to the music would have been a better route.
Despite being Fairy Tale fodder for the little set, Ratmansky seemed to have thought he was choreographing for adults. Because this production was very somber. It eschews tutu splendor for a very modernist style, machine age 1920's setting. I'm still trying to figure out how Ratmansky managed to find a sad, bittersweet ending to one of the happiest of all fairy tales.
In regards to general performance, the first thing I noticed was that all the dancers seemed to really enjoy taking part in this production. It requires a lot character work from all involved not just the leads and the company really put their hearts into it. Still there were a few mishaps, most likely due to extra verve rather than sloppiness. One of the Corps members somehow managed to get her legs twisted up, she suddenly started to sink to the floor during the Winter Fairy section. I was sitting close enough to see the stunned and mortified look on her face. But there was nothing she could do to stop the inevitable collapse. Luckily two of her dance mates were able to grab her and haul her back to her feet. Another little problem was the racket caused by the company's toe shoes. But I'm hesitant to totally lay the blame on the dancers. I noticed the same problem during ABT's production of The Nutcracker. There may be something about BAM's stage floor that exacerbates the sound of the dancers toe shoes.
Even from the first, Ratmansky was determined to bring out the male dancers from behind the ballerinas. There are a lot of great dance sets for men in this production. In a surprising twist, Ratmansky cast female dancers for the stepmother and two stepsisters (usually men play these roles) while the 4 Season Fairies were danced by men.
The Stepmother and Stepsisters were extremely fun characters. Out of the three and even the whole cast, the standout was Anna Lavrinenko as Kubishka. She was such a joy to watch, was obviously having a blast in a role that allowed her to lampoon traditional ballerina steps and attitudes. What worked more in her favor is that she has the type of face that was all the rage during the 20's, so the style of the costumes and hair were quite becoming on her. Xenia Dubrovnia danced the other sister, Khudishka, as a kind of charming but spacey nitwit. In the role of the stepmother, Anastasia Petushkova took over the role for Daria Pavlenko. Petushkova had a lot of energy and authority in her dancing. But her face and attitude was rather vivacious and open. The role seems to require a bit more hauteur which Petushkova doesn't have...yet. But if she continues dancing the role, she will continue to grow into it.
Cinderella was danced by Anastasia Matvienko. She was so slight and delicate, at times I thought she would just fade or float away. In fact her body form seems to be the epitome of Russian ballet right now which means long, tall, narrow, wiry and extremely emaciated. Now I don't think Matvienko suffers from eating problems or anything of the kind. I think she was chosen because she naturally displays these characteristics. But the extreme thinness was sometimes quite disturbing to watch. This preference wasn't always the case, I used to have VHS tapes of the company from the 70's and 80's which showcased quite healthy looking dancers. The standout of the time, because her type was so rare, was Galina Mezentseva. Mezentseva was so tall and extremely thin, she was almost otherworldly. Today practically the whole company looks like Mezentseva. The ballerinas who do not are shoved to the back of the corps line or are cast in the sexy girl roles. It is probably un-balletomane to say but I much prefer the look of American dancers. I prefer the athletic lean look and the noticeable strength that makes me think our dancers could dance through brick walls if need be over the wraith look that Russian ballet prefers.
Another look that Russian ballet likes that is definitely NOT due to the influence of Galina Mezentseva (all her dance videos on youtube show healthy looking knees), is the hyperextended look of the legs. I don't think that locked in knee creating a kind of scary looking backward curve in the leg is attractive. It looks to me just what it is, a deformation in the leg. There were time during the ballet that Matvienko's legs were creating an unhealthy, backward bowed look which was not beautiful. It took me out of the ballet and had me fearing for her health.
But lets get away from the picadillos of Russian ballet fashion and just talk about the dance. Anastasia Matvienko was a perfect for Cinderella. She was a lovely actress and very lyrical in her dancing style. She had good rapport and chemistry with her partner, Alexander Sergeyev. Sergeyev was a great prince and had a lot of good humor in his interpretation. His solos showcased a lot of virtuosity with changes from quick battement footwork to large jete leaps. The prince in this ballet does a lot more than just be amazed by Cinderella.
The company was backed up beautifully by Gergiev's musical direction. In fact most of the audience were just as excited to see Gergiev conduct as they were to see the ballet company.
I'm glad I decided to see this performance and I hope the Mariinsky returns to Brooklyn next year.
Below is an excerpt from a prior performance of Cinderella a few years back.
Labels: art, ballet, culture, dance, reviews, videos, youtube