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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 10 FEBRUARY 2012 — While half the dance-lovers in Paris crowded into the Palais Garnier to see the emotionally packed Onegin, the other half poured into the Opéra Bastille for Rudolf Nureyev’s good-humoured production of Cinderella, a ballet with no other pretentions than being a showcase for the company and with the aim of sending the audience home happy, or ‘uplifted’, to quote the choreographer himself.

It’s a strange thing, but as Brigitte Lefèvre, director of the Paris company, once said, "a ballet not appreciated on a first viewing often improves with familiarity." Such is the case with Cinderella, a complicated, colourful work set to Prokofiev’s highly westernized score, where Perrault’s fairy tale has been taken into the Hollywood studios of the 1930s and where the heroine becomes a star.

Paris Opera Ballet: Cinderella
Choreography: Rudolf Nureyev
Photo: Sébastien Mathé

Cinderella has become a servant in her own home after her father’s remarriage to a tyrannical wife. Mistreated by her stepmother and two bitchy step-sisters, she takes refuge in daydreams, conjuring up the day she will be a famous movie star. And while the ugly sisters are forever rushing off to film auditions, she imagines dancing like Chaplin, visiting film sets, and falling in love with her leading man, the ‘prince’.

The fairy godmother is transformed into an itinerant movie producer in search of new talent, and he discovers Cinders, whisking her off to the ball, which has now become a glamorous film-set. Of course she wins the heart of her leading man, but the fear of losing her dream, coupled with the insidious march of time breaks her idyll and she flees the set, leaving behind a high-heeled glittering slipper. But everything finishes happily ever after when the ‘prince’ seeks her out, recognizing her despite her rags in a moment of true intensity when he doesn’t even bother to try the shoe on, but sweeps her up tenderly in his arms.

Agnès Letestu in Cinderella
Choreography: Rudolf Nureyev
Photo: Sébastien Mathé

Each re-programming of this ballet has brought its own surprises, including the discovery of many talented younger dancers in the secondary roles. With what glee Rudolf Nureyev must have worked with his set designer, Pétrika Ionesco, the man who came up with the idea of setting the work in Hollywood.

Choreographically, all the classical solos and pas de deux in the ballet which can be traced back to Nureyev’s Kirov years are and always have been, extremely beautiful and suited Emilie Cozette ideally as she reveled in the role which won her nomination as étoile five years ago.

"It’s a ballet I love" the young ballerina told me over tea in a Parisian brasserie. "I feel I’m interpreting a different ballet than the one I danced in before because I’ve had time to develop the role of Cinderella and feel much freer to express what I thought she felt. I can make my own choices now, and then, I’ve always loved fairy stories!"

"Nureyev didn’t change the tale very much", she added, "and Cinderella’s actually the same person from beginning to end. Stardom doesn’t change the fundamental person she is, generous, pure, uncomplicated and fun-loving. At one point I actually got so carried away and was enjoying myself so much, I almost began dancing like the ugly sisters.  It’s lots of fun dancing their roles too. Cinderella makes one feel like a kid again and it makes no difference that it takes place in Hollywood."

Emilie Cozette and Karl Paquette in Cinderella
Choreography: Rudolf Nureyev
Photo: Sébastien Mathé

Asked about Karl Paquette, a dancer who certainly looked like everyone’s dream prince with his handsome face and blond locks, Emilie described him as a wonderful partner who gave her complete security in all the spectacular lifts. "At one point", she said, "I just looked at him with his amazing good looks and really thought he was a prince and how fortunate I was."

Emilie Cozette herself is certainly the image of what one imagines Cinderella to look like. Blue-eyed, fair-haired and slender, she also possesses the impeccable technique necessary for Nureyev’s complicated choreography which she makes look so easy. But unfortunately, not every dancer possesses her exquisite technique and both stepsisters were under-cast. It’s easy to forget that these two roles were created for Isabelle Guérin and Monique Loudières and require dancers who have not only a perfect technique, but a deep sense of artistry. Yann Saiz, on the other hand, was quite remarkable and gave a splendid performance as the producer. One can legitimately ask what this young man is doing in the corps de ballet, where he continues to hold the rank of sujet. All praise also to eighteen year old François Alu as the Prisoner from the film Trivial Pursuit, a young man to be watched.

With its larger than life décor and interminable sequences of film, including the sacrificial Polynesian dancers offered to the giant chimpanzee, this original super production has in the past been described as a well-conceived muddle, but it is a muddle with flair, a declaration of Rudolf Nureyev’s tremendous love for the cinema. It is a highly enjoyable tribute to American pop culture, a showcase for as many dancers as the choreographer could find roles for.

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Based in Paris,  Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.

Related Culturekiosque Dance Archives

Book Review: Nureyev: Everything He Ever Said or Did

Rudolf Nureyev at 70 According to Ariane Dollfus

Book Review: Fade to Black

Please click here for Patricia Boccadoro's archive of interviews with international choreographers and dance stars.

Please click here for Patricia Boccadoro's archive of dance reviews of performances by troupes and companies from all over the world.

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