Posted by: rcieri | May 1, 2009

Russian Ballet offers new twist on classic fairytale

Theater Review
March 11, 2009
by Rachel Cieri
People may have seen “Cinderella,” but they’ve never seen it like this.

Needing no words to tell the story, the Russian National Ballet Theatre transcended language barriers March 5 with its dancing in this classic fairy tale.

Far from the vanilla Disney version most Americans are familiar with, the magic of the production lay in the graceful motion of the dancers’ bodies rather than McCrary Theatre’s special effects. In fact, only a few puffs of fog, light changes and three backdrops colored the character of the production.

With music playing from a recording and costumes that were more functional than elaborate, dancers’ interpretations carried the production.

Some of the first characters the audience sees certainly set the tone for the remainder of the show. Cinderella’s evil stepmother clambers out in a gaudy gown, oversized loafers and a wig, looking like a makeup palette has exploded in her face, because this “matron” is played by a man.

The ugly stepsisters, both women, entered in equally hideous get-ups. Each exuded her own personality, one mean and one childish. It wasn’t just the sisters’ costumes that made them ugly. Holding their limbs at awkward angles instead of the beautiful extensions traditional to ballet, the dancers were fully committed to their characters.

In stark contrast, audiences were graced with the presence of Marianna Chemalina as Cinderella, who embodied the elegance and innocence of a classic Cinderella. Her dancing was near perfection, with every detail choreographed down to her fingertips.

The male dancers in this production were exceptional across the board. From the “dance master,” who leaped higher than seems humanly possible, to the prince, who was as graceful as he was charming.

At this point, the performance became less about the storyline and more about the full frills of a traditional ballet.

Upon the arrival of the fairy godmother, an entourage of ballerinas entered behind her, representative of fairies. Four of the fairies represented the seasons, but this interpretation may have been lost on audience members not frantically checking their programs.

After a long number by the fairies, a male dancer in a floppy brown costume makes his only appearance in the show as a personification of time. Had he stopped leaping and turning long enough to let the audience see the clock emblazoned on his chest, it might have made more sense.

The classic parts of the story seemed to pass quickly in this ballet. Cinderella being dressed for the ball, her appearance there, her flight from the ball and the fitting of the slipper each seemed minimal in comparison to the time devoted to side plots like the fairies and performances by “ambassadors” and their wives after the ball. The jester, however unneccessary he was to the story, ended up being quite entertaining with his acrobatic antics.

The exotic costumes and foreign styles of dancing were entertaining for a few minutes, but these numbers seemed to eat up the time that could have been devoted to the pumpkin stagecoach ride and Cinderella’s conflict with her stepfamily.

In the end, the magic of the dancing made up for these shortcomings, leaving audiences with a long-awaited happily ever after.

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