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Joel Kasow
Fanfare, May 2009

The world of ballet is occasionally difficult to understand. Only in Paris is Rudolf Nureyev revered for his choreographic aptitude, in addition to his universally acknowledged prowess as a dancer. The Paris Opera Ballet maintains in its repertoire his settings of various 19th-century Russian classics that tend to be overcharged with steps and extraneous action, but also his Prokofiev ballets, an original Cinderella and Romeo and Juliette. Curiously, there is virtually no trace to be found on the classic Internet sites of an earlier DVD of this ballet with Nureyev himself as the Producer and Sylvie Guillem and Charles Jude as Cinderella and her Prince. A lengthy documentary occupies almost an hour on the second DVD, with pride of place going to Brigitte Lefèvre (director of the Paris Opéra Ballet and ardent defender of the Nureyevian cause) and designer Petrika Ionesco, who tells how he and Nureyev came up with their version: an aviator stumbles into the house of Cinderella and family; he is, in fact, a movie producer, and in his guise as fairy godmother realizes she will be his next star. The ball is really on the movie set, with a glamorous entrance for Cinderella in high heels, while the sisters and mother are the women who participate in the exotic dances of the last act—the Prince’s journey. What is missing is the sense of wonder found in the original as well as in Ashton’s version of the ballet, which is full of the poetry and choreographic invention so lacking in the Nureyev version. Yes, the sisters are comic characters and the mother is played by a male dancer on point, but Ashton’s treatment of the sisters as travesty roles, especially when performed by himself and Robert Helpmann as perpetuated on a DVD with Antoinette Sibley and Anthony Dowell remains a classic.

There are innumerable references to Hollywood, whether King Kong, Charlie Chaplin (a tap routine for Cinderella), Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire, or the Producer’s solo as a Groucho Marx imitation. But we can reproach Nureyev’s Cinderella for its lack of internal logic just as easily as others might reproach Perrault. When the ballet was created in Soviet Russia in 1945, obeisance was offered to 19th-century tradition with the three exotic dances during the Prince’s journey to find Cinderella (omitted in Ashton’s version), and the sisters were comic figures for dancers with an excellent command of technique, also true of Nureyev’s version. Agnès Letestu, in the title role, brings the right wistful quality to her early scenes as well as the requisite eloquence to her transformation. José Martinez, as the movie star, captures his initial diffidence, but we see him falling under the charm of the unknown character. And, of course, his effortless dancing almost makes it seem too easy. Laëtitia Pujol and Stéphanie Romberg meet the demands of their caricatural roles, while Stéphane Phavorin as the Stepmother is more than menacing. Wilfried Romoli is a worthy successor to Nureyev as the Producer, duly triumphant as Cinderella signs the contract at the end. And then there are all the dancers who are not mentioned until the credits roll at the end, something common to many ballet DVDs—unlike opera DVDs, where the least significant performer is nonetheless named in the accompanying booklet if not on the box itself: Christophe Duquenne as the Dancing Master, Cyril Fleury as the Father, Richard Wilk as the Director, and Fabien Roques as the Assistant, not to mention the Fairies (Mélanie Hurel, Dorothée Gilbert, Nolwenn Daniel, and Emilie Cozette), two of whom have already attained the significant rank of étoile. Unfortunately, this lack of casting detail seems to be common to ballet DVDs for no reason I can fathom. Thomas Grimm’s filming has the standard defect of pointing the camera on a plot detail when it is the dancing that should be paramount. We might also point out to Reiner Moritz, producer of the accompanying documentary and author of the program note, that it was not Martinez in the DVD of Balanchine’s Jewels (for which he also provided the notes and accompanying documentary) but Jean-Guillaume Bart. And, of course, the music. Koen Kessels and the Paris Opéra Orchestra offer a solid reading, without reaching the heights of some of the purely aural accounts that have made this music familiar to a wide public.



Lawrence Hansen
American Record Guide, March 2009

This is solid gold. It’s possible one might someday see a better performance of Prokofieff’s No. 2 ballet with even better dancing and production values, but I won’t be surprised if we don’t. The superhumanly talented Nureyev was the rare example of a dancer who became a choreographer of equal talent. He was at the top of his form in conceiving this whimsical, vibrant, touching take on the Cinderella story.

I saw this October 1986 performance on TV many years ago and have never forgotten it. The story is updated to 1930s Hollywood— the time when the music was written, or shortly before. It works beautifully. Transporting an old work to a different time period can be disastrous if the new setting is too incongruous with the original. But many Hollywood movies of that period were essentially selling fairy tale stories, and it’s a great excuse for lavish sets and costumes and some hilariously funny shtick. The fairy godmother becomes a movie producer in need of a new star with “it”. Having the wicked stepmother (here mostly just comical rather than menacing) danced by a man is no funnier than having Frederick Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan dance the stepsisters in the Sadler’s Wells production with Margot Fonteyn (May/June 2005). I have never fathomed the amusement some people find in men pretending to be women; at best it’s mildly annoying. Stephane Phavorin is funny, but only because he has good comic timing and is a brilliantly talented dancer.

As Cinderella, Agnes Letestu comes across as a truly gentle soul, which perhaps partly explains why her takeoff on Charlie Chaplin’s little tramp in Act I is both comical and touching. Jose Martinez has the “matinee idol good looks” for the Movie Star (the Prince); the Paris Opera Ballet was clearly casting this show from strength. Wilfried Romoli has plenty to do as the Producer, finding his muse, keeping a busy studio running, and in Act I, doing a little Groucho Marx imitation. The ball in Act II is a Busby Berkeley dream come true, where costume designer Hanae Mori’s creations only enhance the effect of the spectacular dancing.

Unlike some ballet videos where the orchestra is recorded separately, the sounds you hear from the pit, ably led by Koen Kessels, are the ones the dancers were dancing to, as indicated by the soft but unmistakable clunks of the toe shoes on the wooden floor of the Palais Garnier stage in time to the music.

The 16:9 anamorphic widescreen video quality is top notch. I watched this on my Sharp Aquos 32” LCD HDTV using a by no means high-end Yamaha standard DVD connected via component input and was blown away by the clarity and detail of the picture, not to mention the richness of the vivid costume colors. Blu-Ray: who needs it? The sound is a bit less spectacular—at least the standard LPCM stereo stream: the orchestra sounds a little too far away. Hardly a deal-breaker because the dancing is, after all, the main thing. (A DTS 5.1 soundtrack is also available.)






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5:12:50 PM, 19 September 2014
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