Cinderella, Ballet by Thierry Malandain

Cinderella, like so many stories handed down from generation to generation, is utterly timeless. Behind its rags-to-riches narrative, the fairy tale has a universal message; one that shows and tells us how love makes us complete. It was this fundamental truth that drew Sergei Prokofiev to compose the music for his Cinderella, written between 1940 and 1944 and first performed at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow on 21 November 1945.

One of the joys of ballet is that one single choreography is unlikely to be the last word on how any work is interpreted. And so it has proven with Cinderella. One of the most extraordinary in recent times to come after Rostislav Zakharov’s original creation for Prokofiev’s score was Maguy Marin's in 1985 when she set the ballet in a doll’s house! Then in 2013, Thierry Malandain, remaining faithful to Nikolai Volkov’s libretto for Prokofiev, which in turn was adapted from Charles Perrault’s Cendrillon, created his Cinderella for the Opéra Royal de Versailles at the request of its director, Laurent Brunner.

Premiered on 3 June 2013 at the Kursaal in San Sebastián, Spain, Cinderella went on to mesmerise lovers of dance in the Parisian suburb just four days later. The press reviews that followed were unanimous in their praise, citing, in particular, the sense of optimism and hope the master choreographer had brought to Cinderella’s story. Now it is the turn of audiences at the Vienna Volksoper to be enthralled by Malandain’s award-winning ballet.

Cinderella, in Malandain's hands, has a sublime gossamer fluidity that is perfectly complemented by the sylphlike appearance of the dancers. The backdrop, alternating between a gentle blue, grey and white light, reveals scores of identical shoes; a gentle reminder of the key moment in the ballet when Cinderella’s life will change forever. The step-sisters and their mother, played by men, are funny and grotesque, although even they seem to learn, in the end, that dance is a thing of beauty; while Malandain’s use of props, from the simple circular disc in which Cinderella makes her entrance to the ball to the bodiless mannequins swept around the dancefloor, provides an ideal match with his minimalist conception.

What makes Malandain stand out from his contemporaries is his attitude to classical ballet. In his view, it is inescapable that dance, however modern or avant-garde, carries in its DNA the classical tradition. As a result, his repertoire, which ranges from some of the famous works in the genre, including Romeo and Juliet and The Nutcracker, through to new creations such as Guillaume Connesson’s Lucifer, defies categorisation. The most important thing for Malandain, quite simply, is to find a ballet he likes.

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