LAST EDITED ON 30-Apr-00 AT 09:14 AM (GMT)
Rudolf Nureyev's 1986 production of "Cinderella" with the leading roles created on Sylvie Guillem and Charles Jude, is set in Hollywood in the 1930s, and is Nureyev's own tribute to the golden age of cinema. I only saw it on video before the current season at the Paris Opera Garnier this month - actually the first time it has been revived in Paris since 1986. This production is also in the repertory of La Scala Milan which has a number of Nureyev's productions.
I remember that the eminent critic John Percival, when reviewing this "Cinderella" in Paris in 1986, wrote in "The Times" that this spectacular production could easily sell out for a run in a West End Theatre. In fact ten years later, in 1997, Matthew Bourne's production of "Cinderella" ran for several months at the Piccadilly Theatre.
Act 1 is set in a diner run by Cinderella's father, whose first entrance carrying a bottle in his hand reveals him to be a drunkard. The stepmother is danced in drag (by Laurent Novis or Pierre Darde), but the stepsisters are played by female dancers. Both stepsisters are seen busy choosing outfits to wear to their audition at the film studio. As in other versions, Cinderella dances a playful solo containing pas de chats with her broom. An injured man arrives at the house, and Cinderella rushes to his aid. Unbenownst to everyone, he is actually the producer for the film for which the stepsisters are to audition. A dance instructor arrives to coach the stepsisters for their audition. After her stepsisters have eventually left for the film studio, Cinderella puts on her father's clothes and dances a solo imitating the tramp, a famous role of Charlie Chaplin. I didn't however find this masculine image of Cinderella that funny. Then the film producer returns to Cinderella.
In this production, the four seasons' divertissements are presented by the film producer as a fashion show of the each season's couture collection, to enable Cinderella to choose a favourite dress for her audition in Hollywood. There is not a prominent solo for each season. Then they leave for the studio in the producer's luxurious limousine.
In Act 2, we see the filming of several movies in the studios. The first shows a comic escape from prison. The second is a burlesque scene with men playing ballerinas who are crushed at the end by a collapsing column. The third is a dramatic scene from "King Kong". Girls are offered to the gigantic King Kong in sacrifice. Then the handsome movie star - the prince in most other versions - makes his entrance and performs a solo full of intricate steps typical of Nureyev's choreographic style. The stepsisters and everyone else are starstruck by him.
Then Cinderella enters in a glittering dress, trailed by a flock of photographers. She and the movie star are rehearsed by the dance instructor. Cinderella then dances a solo containing some off-balance steps. And the male star does his solo full of jumps - cabrioles, coupes jetes, and sauts de basque. This is followed by the comic number 'love of the three oranges' for both stepsisters. The climactic pas de deux was beautifully choreographed by Nureyev. It starts and ends with Cinderella on a chair, and in between there are some supported promenades and some soaring lifts.
Act 3 sees the male star and his entourage of dancers in golden costumes scouring the city's night spots - a Spanish cantina, a Chinese opium den, and a Russian cabaret - to look for Cinderella who has fled at midnight in the previous act, before finally arriving at Cinderella'as household. And here the libretto returns to the traditional tale - the trying of the shoe by the stepsisters and stepmother, before eventually Cinderella shows the prince/star her single shoe which matches the other left with the prince in the previous act. And the producer (half-Pygmalion, half-Diaghilev) offers Cinderella her first film contract.
The final pas de deux is probably the best choreographed by Nureyev that I have seen, in its sustained heart-melting passion. There are a lot of big overhead lifts for Cinderella, contrasting with the male star frequently lying low on the ground. Cinderella frequently resembles a bird in full flight. The final tableau sees Cinderella lifted high above by the male star, holding a long white veil trailing behind her in the air - a striking image which recalls the white veil in the pas de deux in the Shades act of "La Bayadere".
I saw two casts - Aurelie Dupont and Manuel Legris, Fanny Gaida and Wilfred Romoli (replacing the injured Laurent Hilaire). Dupont's dancing had delicacy and incisiveness. Gaida was a more moving actress. Legris had a romantic air and danced with a core of strength the technical bravura of Nureyev's demanding choreography, especially in the diagonals of jumps in the beginning of Act 3.
In the supporting roles, I was impressed by the charming Karl Paquette as the film producer, with a cigar constantly in his mouth. Bertrand Belem (Gil Isoart in the other cast) was the dance instructor who had a dazzling solo in Act 3. Laetitia Pujol, and Fanny Fiat (Laure Muret in another cast) were the lively stepsisters.
The stylish costumes were designed by the illustrious Japanese haute-couture designer Hanae Mori. Vello Pahn conducted superbly the Orchestra of the Opera National de Paris.