The story of Cinderella has been presented in dozens of different versions, on stage and off, and Sergei Prokofiev’s 1945 ballet has been adapted and reinterpreted in almost as many ways, changing the setting and examining the relationships between its central characters.
Saturday’s abridged two-act performance by the Russian National Ballet Theatre, presented by the Wichita Grand Opera for the inauguration of its 15th season, stayed close to the original text in some, but not all, ways. Directed by artistic director Elena Radchenko from Rostislov Zakharov’s choreography of the original production, “Cinderella” is Russian ballet in high style, full of big gestures and big emotions.
In the title role, Marianna Chemalina brought a strong presence to a character who, in some versions, can seem like a bystander in her own life. As the put-upon victim of her stepmother’s cruelty, Chemalina seemed both physically small and gracelessly stiff, as if mentally hemmed in by her situation. The sections trimmed from Act One were largely those showing Cinderella’s generous and patient character, so she didn’t have much to work with at first.
Once uplifted, transformed and transported to the ball by the Fairy Godmother (Olga Gudkova), however, Chemalina blossomed, her limbs unfolding as if she were a flower exposed to sunlight. In addition to her own dances, solo and with the Prince (Konstantin Marikin), she was a striking centerpiece of many tableaux in which she was held aloft, an angelic figure presiding over the ball.
Marikin’s Prince was both the leaping, athletic leader of the ball and a tender lover in a duet with Chemalina and, later, a convincingly bored and frustrated monarch who seeks only to be reunited with the mysterious girl who left a slipper at his palace. Comic relief was provided by the Stepsisters (Elena Khorosheva and Natalia Ivanova) and the flamboyant, possibly soused Stepmother (Evgeniy Rudakov; the role is typically danced by a man for maximum camp value).
The corps de ballet were put to good use as couples at the ball and as the fairies who assist and accompany Cinderella during her transformation. The simplicity and familiarity of the story made it a fine vehicle for brilliant, humorous and passionate dance that zig-zagged across Prokofiev’s rhythmic, pungent music.
Regrettably, Prokofiev’s score was heard only as a recording; no live orchestra was present. I gather that this is not uncommon in the dance world, but for a season-opening performance that was clearly meant to be something of an event, for a ballet company of the Russian National Ballet Theatre’s stature and considering the talent the Wichita Grand Opera is able to field during its regular season, the lack of live music is a missed opportunity for the performers and the audience.
Guy Vollen is a conductor, horn player and award-winning composer and holds a doctorate in musical composition. He blogs about music at Medleyana.com.
If You Go
What: Russian National Ballet Theatre presented by Wichita Grand Opera
When: 7 p.m. May 3
Where: Century II Concert Hall
Tickets: $20-$95, www.selectaseat.com, 855-755-7328