For many, a mention of Cinderella brings to mind images from the 1950 Disney animated feature.
More recently, audiences have been enjoying the 2015 live-action movie release that tells the quintessential rags-to-riches tale.
Actually, notes Parvan Bakardiev, president of the Wichita Grand Opera, there are more than 500 interpretations of the classic story, dating to the year 7 B.C.
Of them all, Bakardiev says, it’s hard to beat the romantic “Cinderella” ballet composed during World War II by Russian Sergei Prokofiev, “the one and only that has survived all the changes.”
Prokofiev’s “Cinderella,” performed by the Russian National Ballet Theatre, has been selected to open the 2015 Wichita Grand Opera season on April 25, and Bakardiev says the timing was intentional to follow on the heels of the movie. That latest feature film version is closer to Prokofiev’s interpretation than the cartoon version.
In Prokofiev’s “Cinderella,” the father is not dead. “He’s alive and well,” Bakardiev said. “He’s under the thumb of the stepmother.”
Alexander Daev has danced many of the roles in “Cinderella” but is on board currently as associate artistic director for the Russian National Ballet Theatre’s 112-show tour with 42 professional dancers. “We have a beautiful set, beautiful costumes,” he said.
Marianna Chemalina, who has been with the company since 2003, dances the role of Cinderella. She shows kindness to a beggar woman who returns a portrait of Cinderella’s deceased mother that her stepsisters discarded.
When the rest of the family leaves for the ball, Cinderella dances with her broom in the kitchen and bursts into tears. The beggar woman returns and becomes a fairy godmother, who gives Cinderella a pair of glass slippers and a beautiful gown that will return to rags at the stroke of midnight.
Oranges are another distinction of the Prokofiev ballet. At the ball, guests are offered oranges, a delicacy, but the prince is one short. Generous Cinderella gives hers to her stepsister, who does not recognize Cinderella.
The prince falls in love with Cinderella, who rushes from the ballroom as midnight arrives, leaving behind one glass slipper. Later, at Cinderella’s house, the prince tries to discover the owner of the slipper. This is where Daev says audiences will appreciate the humor in the production.
“My favorite is the stepmother,” he said. “It’s very funny.”
The ballet’s conclusion is romantic, with the fairy godmother transforming the kitchen into a magical glade where Cinderella and the prince dance a romantic pas de deux.
“The grand finale, where everything comes to fruition – you feel like cheering for Cinderella,” Bakardiev said. “She is a heroine that has a happy end.”
Audiences love positive stories. “It’s not always the fat lady sings and dies,” Bakardiev said. “Good prevails. People like to see triumph at the very end. It gives them hope.”
Bakardiev and Daev encourage families to attend the production, particularly with the 7 p.m. curtain rise and a manageable two-hour length. Wichita Grand Opera is offering special family ticket packages for “Cinderella.” Additionally, the dancers will greet attendees during intermission.
“We like to see the theater full of young people,” Bakardiev said. “Children take dance lessons but have never had the opportunity to see a ballet at this level.”
The sets, costumes and stars of the Russian National Ballet Theatre, Bakardiev says, are “the best of the best.” The company was founded in the late 1980s and has been led since 1994 by prima ballerina Elena Radchenko. Many of the dancers have been with the company since its inception. They are an elite bunch, training eight hours a day in Russia and beginning rehearsals four hours before each showtime.
“They have been here before to huge success,” Bakardiev said. “The dancers train for years for a fairly short career, relatively.”
Daev says his company’s relationship with Wichita Grand Opera has been an important one and that ballet and opera go hand in hand in classical culture.
The Russian National Ballet Theatre also will perform the second show in Wichita Grand Opera’s 2015 season, eight days later. The season has been dubbed the “Season of Royalty,” in part to commemorate Wichita Grand Opera’s 15 years of existence and also because each show happens to feature a royal character.
Ballet and opera are classical art forms that have survived because of their ability to transport audiences to another place, Bakardiev says.
“It is a form of elegance, panache, entertainment and beautiful music,” he said. “People are bombarded with a lot of garbage, and their life is difficult. … You forget that by the time you leave the theater.”
If you go
What: Wichita Grand Opera presents Prokofiev’s “Cinderella,” a ballet in two acts performed by the Russian National Ballet Theatre
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Century II Concert Hall, 225 W. Douglas
Tickets: $40, $60, $95 at www.selectaseat.com or 855-755-7328
Wichita Grand Opera Outreach
In addition to the two ballets and three operas to be performed at Century II’s Concert Hall in 2015, Wichita Grand Opera will reach other audiences in several ways this summer.
▪ The Casino Royale Chairmen’s Opera Ball will take place June 20.
▪ On July 1, Wichita Grand Opera launches its new Opera Academy of the Midwest in conjunction with the McPherson Opera House. Its aim is to be an intensive training ground for opera singers and production personnel.
▪ “A Night at the Opera” on July 17 at the McPherson Opera House will preview the Wichita Grand Opera season.
▪ Wichita Grand Opera will return to Bradley Fair Plaza on July 18 for a free outdoor production, complete with floating stages, called “Opera on the Lake: A Midsummer Night in the South Pacific.”
▪ Wichita Grand Opera will join the Salina Symphony for “A Royal Enchanted Evening” on Aug. 7 at the Stiefel Theatre in Salina.
▪ “Turandot” will play Aug. 30 at the Carlsen Center in Overland Park.
▪ “The Grand Duchess,” to be performed in English, will play Oct. 17 at the McPherson Opera House.