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PANDORA BEAUMONT considers Mikhail Messerer's spectacular new staging of Rostislav Zakharov's historical ballet.

The new ballet season at the Mikhailovsky Theatre opened with the awaited premiere of Cinderella in Mikhail Messerers staging, based on the choreography of Rostislav Zakharov. The original version, created in 1945 on the music of Sergey Prokofiev, has been forgotten nowadays, and we are familiar with adaptations of the Perrault fairy tale, with variable success, by many different choreographers  Nureyev, Ratmansky and Maillot, to name a few of them. It is interesting that Messerer, head of the Mikhailovsly Ballet, chose to preserve the Zakharov version, while updating it  he clearly wanted to add another classical ballet to the repertoire. The last performance of Cinderella by the company was more than ten years ago.

What might have been expected to be a very academic staging of the ballet was actually full of surprises. During the prologue, the hands of the clock projected on the stage curtain began to move, pre-empting what was about to happen during the performance, and as the set and the first scene unfolded a murmur of awe came from the audience. The lush interior of a wealthy house with huge windows and fireplace was impressive, but was surpassed by what transpired in the next scenes. The dancers on stage at this point, Anastasia Soboleva, who danced the role of Cinderella, Ksenia Rusina, the Stepmother, and Ekaterina Odarenko and Ekaterina Belovoskaya as the two sisters, portrayed the characters as if straight out of a childrens book.

Soboleva, who has beautiful long lines, perhaps looked a bit too sophisticated in this first act, when she is supposed to be a shy young girl in rags. She seemed more at ease as the transfigured Cinderella, soon to be princess, in her stunning gown and wig during the ball scene. If, at first, she appeared a little tentative, she grew in confidence as the ballet progressed, and her dancing was notably musical and lively. Rusina gave a very convincing performance as the Stepmother, but the sisters could have been more caricatural, especially during their lesson with the ballet master. Up until this stage, the action followed the regular order, but things were soon about to change.

Starting from the moment the Fairy, Ekaterina Borchenko (who unfortunately in this role did not dance much), made her appearance to transform Cinderellas life, the whole set changed into a spectacular 3D world. It really made the audience feel as if it was drawn into a magic realm together with Cinderella. The four season-fairy variations, who each presented Cinderella with a gift, were accompanied by video back-projections and a transparent front gauze conveying a dreamlike countryside with a succession of blossoming flowers, birds flying, leaves falling or snowfall, as appropriate. As far as the choreography was concerned, the most fascinating dance was the Winter one staged in a Russian folkloric style.

The second and third act were even more mesmerising, and the audience applauded the luxurious rococo-style set and costumes of the ball scene.

The corps de ballet showed great harmony, and executed the choreographys intricate steps and patterns diligently. In the second act, Victor Lebedev commanded attention as soon as he came on to the stage  he has become one of St Petersburgs favourite dancers during the last few years. His brilliant technique and engaging personality were on display, and make him perfect for this role. The evident rapport between him and Soboleva (who are husband and wife in real life) was lovely to watch. Their duet was tender and smooth, and they made the difficult lifts look unforced and easy. Another dancer who made a great impression that evening was Roman Volkov, as the Court Jester: his jumps and pirouettes were spectacular, but still remained very clean.

The scene in which the Prince is seen trying to find the elusive Cinderella somewhere in the gigantic corridors of the palace was very impressive, once again thanks to video effects. If it was confusing for the dancers to have so many effects going on around them, they did not let it jeopardise their performances. In the third act, when the Prince goes on his world search for Cinderella, Lebedev impressed the audience with amazingly fast chainé turns across the entire stage, repeating the sequence twice along his travels.

The final duet between Cinderella and the Prince was moving, but the very last scene, when a few couples in the same costumes as the two heroes arrive and rejoin the pair on stage, did not add anything. Nevertheless, on the whole, the ballet is a treat for the eyes, and an interesting new take on classical dance as entertainment for a wider audience. Pavel Sorokin conducted the Mikhailovsky orchestra with brio.

Pandora Beaumont, Dance Europe


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