DVD Ballet Reviews
Prokofiev's Cinderella, choreographed by Nureyev, Paris Opera Ballet, DVD, Opus Arte OA 0997 D, distributed by Naxos
By Alidë Kohlhaas
When Rudolf Nureyev burst onto the western dance stage in 1961, he changed forever the perception we have of the role of male dancers in classical ballet. Nureyev disliked playing second fiddle to ballerinas, and in time, as he began to choreograph for various companies, he made sure that male roleseven of the most classical pieces— received much more choreography than they had in the past.
Consequently, it is interesting to watch how he tackled the male roles in Sergei Prokofiev's Cinderella, which he choreographed for the Paris Opera Ballet. The Nureyev version of this ballet made its first appearance in Paris on Oct. 25, 1986. Now we can watch this company's Cinderella as captured by Opus Arte on DVD during performances in April of 2008. This production has remained true to Nureyev's vision, taking Cinderella out of a distant past into the heyday of Hollywood, namely the 1930s and '40s.
Although at first the idea seemed rather strange, I have to admit that Nureyev translated the fairytale masterfully into this setting, in which the Fairy Godmother is turned into a Producer (he had choreographed the part for himself), and the Prince, who falls in love with Cinderella, is a Movie Star. The Cinderella of this story is one that resonates with the young and the old alike.
Stage designer Petrika Ionesco provided Nureyev with the idea of changing the setting for Cinderella. Nureyev had admired a production Ionesco created for the Paris Opera and approached him to work together. Ionesco quite rightly perceived that a modern Cinderella would be dreaming of becoming a movie star and falling in love with one. At first Nureyev rejected the idea, but eventually came around to it and created a ballet that suits our times very well, even if he had set it in 1930s-40s Hollywood. One might say that this ballet is prophetic as we watch today's young girls being enthralled by the idea of fame and fascination with so-called stars without thought of what this may entail.
The Producer, danced by Wilfred Romili in this 2008 production, shows off well why Nureyev had chosen the part for himself. Romoli has worked with Nureyev and so captures the late dancer's interpretation exceedingly well. Cinderella is fluidly preformed by Agnès Letestu, whom Nureyev had discovered in the Paris Opera Ballet's corps de ballet. He gave the then young dancer her first solo role as Gamzatti in his staging of La Bayadère. He also taught her the solo of the Queen of the Dryades in his own version of Don Quixote. Although in her late 30s now, the dancer is the essence of the youthful Cinderella, who fears that her dreams will be dashed by her stepsisters and their mother.
Ionesco created the set for this production. It captures with remarkable style the mood and tone of the Hollywood of bygone studio days. The costumes by Hannae Mori are colorful without overpowering the eye. Prokofiev's music, and Nureyev's choreography turn this fairy tale into a dream world that has haunting echoes in our own era. Prokofiev created a score that is clearly identifiable as his work, yet it has none of the prominent moments he offered up in his Romeo and Juliet. Most people who know his work will instantly think of the powerful music of the Dance of the Knights in Romeo and Juliet. There is no equivalent here, although there are many pleasing, dramatic and tender moments in Cinderella that are excellently performed by the Paris Opera Ballet Orchestra.
There is something special, though, about this Cinderella. It combines drama with comedy to perfection, especially in the comic role of the Stepmother as danced by Stéphane Phavorin (not an easy role to dance for a male dancer) and the ugly sisters by Laëtitia Pujol and Stéphanie Romberg.
This Nureyev version of Cinderella also incorporates classical ballet with modern steps as Cinderella, for one, tap-dances her way through one scene without it ever appearing out of place. The scene set in a Spanish taverna during the Movie Star's search for the missing Cinderella is another example. Critics and public alike originally denounced Nureyev for creating cross-overs in his choreography, but today most dancers learn both modern and classical ballet steps as a matter of course if they wish to get ahead. By the time Nureyev created his 1986 version of Cinderella, it was no longer seen as unusual. It certainly seems fitting in this 2008 production. Echoing a line from the liner notes to the DVD, The Paris Opera Ballet here gives dance and movie fans a special treat, beautifully captured by Opus Arte on DVD.