Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Cinderella - Queensland Ballet

Cinderella, original scenario by Nikolai Volkov, based on Cendrillon by Charles Perrault (1697). Music composed by Sergei Prokofiev (1944).  Choreography by Ben Stevenson (1970).

Queensland Ballet, artistic director Li Cunxin, at Canberra Theatre, November 5-10, 2019.

Set Design – Thomas Boyd; Lighting Design – David Walters; Costume Design – Tracy Grant Lord.

Photo: David Kelly
Reviewed by Frank McKone

What a wonderful production of Cinderella!  I love theatre because I can always be surprised by the unexpected.  Who would have thought that this rom-com rags-to-riches fairy story could be so engaging and feel just right in our world where the promise of progress seems to be falling about our ears?

As the Prince – Victor Estevez – and Cinderella – Laura Hildago – gently rested their heads together in love, the lights dimmed to 1239 aaah!s.  The mood was so satisfied, even after three acts and two intervals for ice creams and sparkling wine – or maybe because of the terrific sense of social togetherness the show engendered.

Laughter was the key, including the very funny moment when Cinderella, dragging herself up by the boot straps out of despondency, danced in imitation of the teenage-like shenanigans of Ugly Sister Short and Ugly Sister Tall. Camilo Ramos and Alexander Idaszak clowned their roles magnificently.

Then Thomas Boyd’s set – so impressively huge, yet so simply shifted from the oppressive ugly family kitchen to the glorious lakeside panorama, scene for the princely ball and perfect wedding.

Costumes and the lighting which brought out all their possibilities were literally brilliant, not merely for the sake of show but as essential elements of expression, giving the choreography of the dance more than a fairy story meaning.

Think of Sergei Prokofiev beginning to compose this music early in World War 2, putting it aside while he worked on the opera, War and Peace, and completing Cinderella for its first production in 1945.  Throughout this music there’s a sense of irony.  Can we really expect a perfect marriage of prince and pauper?  The humour in the music set for Nikolai Volkov’s scenario says we can’t become mired in the depression of Cinderella’s situation – and so the step family status has to be treated as a cartoon, except for the touch of depth of feeling for her mother’s image.

From this point, the absurdity of the story of the matching slipper (which literally slips from the pocket in Cinderella’s ‘slavery’ dress) sets us up for an unbelievable instant romance and marriage.  There’s hope in 1945, but …. 

Prokofiev wrote he saw the work “... as a classical ballet with variations, adagois, pas de deux, etc... I see Cinderella not only as a fairy-tale character but also as a real person, feeling, experiencing, and moving among us”, and I think by 1970, Ben Stevenson and now with Li Cunxin have achieved a melding of opposites, a step beyond Sir Frederick Ashton’s 1948 conception as “full of dreams”.  We respond to the romance as if it is real, as much as we laugh at the comedy which makes fun of reality.  In this production, the wedding is conducted without extravagance: despite the absurdity all around us, there is still hope after the nearly 80 years since Prokofiev began this work; just as I was dancing into this world.

So for me, over a lifetime, this is a Cinderella not to be forgotten; and certainly not to be missed.