Cendrillon, Opéra Garnier, April 2005
Aurélie Dupont, Florent Magnenet, Isabelle Ciaravola, Mélanie Hurel, Emmanuel Thibault, Wilfried Romoli, Alessio Carbone, Laurent Quéval, Myriam Ould Braham, Nolwenn Daniel
Here is ONE shoe that fits Cinderella's foot. "Nekulturny" fits both this ballet's foot, and Rudolf Nureyev himself.
Having come late to study at the Maryinskii, Nureyev lost out on the rigorous general education then given Vaganova School students over and above their studies in the academic dance. Apart from what Professor Pushkin may have told him, and what he gleaned from anarchic reading, his mental structure seems mainly to have been chaos. It is rather safe to say that Pushkin would unlikely have been ecstatic, had he learnt of the artistic shenanigans his pupil got up to once in the West.
Nureyev fled to the West as a lad of about 24. Whether he were aware of it or not, and although one would never deny that he was an exciting if messy dancer, his reputation in the West was blown up to bursting point by a Cold War media-campaign, guided by the crowd around the Dulles brothers. To them, Nureyev was a political football kicked about against the USSR. So he could do no wrong ! Thanks to the print media and the huge and novel influence of television, he became a God overnight, and millions hung on his every word.
The problem is that this particular twenty-four-year old was not Thaddeus Kosciusko made Brigadier-General in the American War of Revolution. He was not intellectually prepared for such adulation, nor did he have a sense of mission beyond his own career. He began to think he was a genius. That the great artists of the post-War period such as Igor Youskevitch, who easily outclassed him, were about to retire or had then retired, while equally-gifted contemporaries, such as Yuri Soloviev or Cyril Athanassoff, were too serious to crave media hype, smoothed Nureyev's path to a virtual dictatorship over the dance world in his day.
Brilliant as Nureyev was, he lacked all philosophical rigour, and much of the time, he simply did not understand what he was reading. After all, he had been persuaded that he was a genius ! Thus, so far as he was concerned, it was perfectly OK to EXCISE Shakespeare's own, political ending to 'Romeo & Juliet'. Although the reconciliation of the Montagus and Capulets is the point of the whole thing ! (As an aside, it is precisely its loyalty to Shakespeare's text that makes Leonid Lavrovsky's "Romeo" the sole credible, and very creditable, version in the international repertory to this day).
Nureyev has been pulling the wool over our eyes, but he is not alone.
Our problem is that ballet dancers are, at the present time, so over-worked, so anxious, and so stressed out, that there is little chance of another Bournonville emerging. They retire only to become over-worked, anxious and stressed out professors.
So a Nureyev turns up, and pulls the wool over everyone's eyes. And people watch his dreadful productions, and applaud. Which is how we get ballet dancers, who are supposed to be amongst the intellectual elite of this society, joining up with Jan Fabre, or Les Ballets C de la B.
Anyway, back to 'Cendrillon', of which there is little to say.
First, Prokofiev's ear-splitting score, which is a pale and watery off-shoot of his rather better 'Romeo'.
The score bristles with what one might call "proto-melody", or more unkindly, "aborted melody", that, in 'Romeo', he has more prudently dealt with as Leitmotiven. These proto-melodies break off unexpectedly, leaving the corps de ballet high and dry in mid-air.
Under-rehearsed, the corps looks quite unfamiliar with how the score, with its clumsy rhythmic structure, sounds from the stage when played by the full orchestra, and seems to be straining to hear the pounding rhythms of the rehearsal piano. Confusion broke out so often that in the end, it became one long "incident de parcours".
Pity the corps ! On account of the bizarre programming here at Paris, the corps has not danced a step in a classical ballet in four months, viz. not since the run of "The Sleeping Beauty" ended on December 31st 2004. In a nutshell, they are sorely out of practice. (According to rumour, some of the girls haven't worn pointe shoes on stage in five months - but why give credence to mere rumour, when the reality is bad enough ?)
In any event, why Nureyev chose so uninspiring a score is a moot point, though his steps, such as they are, are scarcely an improvement upon it. There is better choreography out on Broadway or the London West End than anything we saw last night. His choreography is so trite, so empty, so lacking in any inner fire or necessity, that the writer of these lines could have done it twenty or so years ago, when I could still stand up without falling over.
Hideous the costumes - the word 'unflattering' does not begin to describe how one can take a fair-haired angel like Myriam Ould Braham dancing spring, and turn her into a leprechaun, or the lovely Nolwenn Daniel as autumn, and make her look like a bottle of Fairy Dishwashing Liquid.
A word to the wise - MEN, all men over the age of six, look like HELL in satin. HELL. As for GOLD satin... it's to hell in a handbasket
The décors, stage effects and machinery are simply amazing, and certainly the sole reason this production can still hold the stage.
Under those circumstances, it seems otiose to discuss at length the performance of individuals. Aurélie Dupont, a superb dancer, does what she can with the depressing role of Cinderella, although the seams were showing on the run-up to all the lifts. One assumes this is because M. Magnenet, in his first major role, had taken over at such short notice from M. Legris.
In character roles that are danced, rather than mimed, such as the Ugly Stepsisters, there must be a characteristic principle of movement. Nureyev has given no thought to this. So the Sisters cannot figure out HOW to move - should they dance properly, with a few angular movements ? Should they dance grotesquely at all times ? Should they put all the energy into the face ? The girls haven't a clue. Mlle. Hurel did a better job than Mlle. Ciaravola, but that's par for the course.
Messrs. Romoli and Queval went the proverbial Seven Leagues in an attempt to save their ungrateful roles as the Producer and the hen-pecked Father respectively, as did the excellent Alessio Carbone with his Dancing Teacher.
As one might have expected from so wild a theatrical imagination, the performance was dominated by the singular, and monstrous apparition of Emmanuel Thibault as the Wicked Stepmother, reeking of cheap scent, mildewed furs, and rancid sweat. A kind of female Oprichnik whose sole regret is that as a female, one's ability to unleash havoc and murder in the world at large is held in check - somewhat.
The Wicked Stepmother indeed ! Some may find it droll, but personally, I see it as painfully embarrassing to the French National Theatre to have two of the most extraordinary classical dancers in the world, at the height of their powers - Emmanuel Thibault and José Martinez - alternating in a role that should be held by their professors, character dancers well over the age of fifty.
What this all reflects, is this business with Nekulturny, rampant in the so-called "art" world at the present time. Where will it all end ? Well, it won't end, unless we put a stop to this nonsense !
This coming year at London, ballets by Andrée Howard (La Fête Etrange) and Ninette de Valois (The Rake's Progress), as well as the 1946 N. Sergueiev/O. Messel production of "Beauty" will be revived, and Johan Kobborg will put up the Bournonville 'Sylphide'. New classical choreography by Michael Corder, Wheeldon, and Bintley will be shown - just so you know and can begin to plan an escape route to London now.