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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 2 JULY 2007— My first reaction back in 1986 after the performance of Rudolf Nureyev's own version of Cinderella, set in Hollywood to music by Prokofiev and with Elisabeth Platel in the title role, was one of disappointment. After chatting to him some weeks previously, I had expected so much more. On a second viewing ten days or so later, with Sylvie Guillem and Charles Jude in the central roles*, the ballet, a combination of pure classical dance with musical comedy and contemporary, seemed much more acceptable particularly since Isabelle Guèrin and Monique Loudières, both at the peak of their form, gave unforgettable performances as the ugly sisters. Both the first and last act were superb.

However, it remained a work which was probably more appreciated by the company than the critics. The long-winded second act needed pruning and moreover, it seemed a production which was likely to date very quickly with its laboured 'King-Kong' scene and frenetic, caricatured film producer running around in all directions.

It remained for Agnès Letestu and José Martinez **, the third, sublime cast I saw, to renew my interest in the work on a third viewing in 2000. But it wasn't until May this year that the ballet, this time with Emilie Cozette as Cinderella and Matthew Ganio as her prince, was shown at its best because not only was there a plausible central couple, but also many of the "smaller" roles had been excellently cast. It is a ballet which depends on all the dancers rather than just the principals to carry it off, which was what Rudolf Nureyev himself had told me years before. One of his aims had been to ensure that as many dancers as possible had the occasion to shine.

Ballet de l'Opera de Paris
Photo: Laurent Philippe

Nureyev did not change the basic story by Charles Perrault written in 1697 and inspired by an original tale dating back to the 9th century, B.C., but set it in the difficult post-depression years in the America of the 1930's and 40's. Cinderella, who lives with her alcoholic father, tyrannical stepmother and two bitchy step-sisters, dreams of escape and stardom and spends much of her time conjuring up images of Chaplin and King-Kong. Her wish seems to be coming true when she is discovered by a film producer/fairy godfather, and chauffeured off to the film studios in a sumptuous pumpkin limousine for a screen test. But after a promising debut, when her leading man falls head over heels in love with her, she is filled with doubts that her new- found happiness is too good to be true and will tumble like a pack of cards with the passing of time. All the drama of Nureyev's Cinderella lies in her refusal to accept the reality which surrounds her, coupled with a fear of growing old. Therefore she flees, losing her slipper on the way. But happily her lover, in this case a famous film-star, moves heaven and earth to get her back.

Everything in the ballet that can be traced back to Nureyev's Kirov years, including the two first act solos for his heroine and the pas de deux of the last act, is and always has been outstandingly beautiful and all casts I have seen have been remarkable, but what was different in the recent re-programmation was the casting in Act 2 coupled with the touching interpretation of Emilie Cozette which led to her nomination as étoile on May 5th.

Samuel Murez as the harassed film director gave an intelligent and masterly performance throughout that troublesome second act, uniting three or four disconnected sequences into a coherent and hilarious whole. In particular, the extract from the film, Trivial Pursuit, (a tribute to Buster Keaton?), where a prisoner in striped pyjamas is escaping from four guards, was brilliantly executed. The young Mathias Heymann gave a splendid performance.

The ugly sisters, who actually gave a less than convincing display, were out-danced and out-shined with much malicious glee by a spectacular José Martinez, more usually seen in the role of the 'prince', but who was thoroughly enjoying himself on this occasion in the unlikely role of the stepmother.

Ballet de l'Opera de Paris
Photo: Laurent Philippe

But while Mathieu Ganio, movie star, danced with elegance and style, the evening belonged to Emilie Cozette who opened the ballet with gentleness and grace in her simple grey dress, albeit by designer Hanae Mori. The choreography ideally suited her pure and lovely line, and she was equally at ease waltzing around the immense stage in her high-heeled glittering shoes and the softest of pink chiffon dresses as in the classical pas de deux.

What makes an étoile is not necessarily being "better" than anyone else, although that undeniably helps particularly as regarding technique, it lies in possessing a quality that is special, something indefinable, different and thus unique. And Emilie Cozette, now 25 , has been unique since she first began to dance as far back as she can remember.

"I've always danced, well before I began having lessons at the school near where I lived in Pont de l'Arche, Normandy, when I was 6 years old", she told me with a smile when I met her for tea in Paris recently. Nominated for the "Benois de la Danse" by Canadian choreographer, Edward Lock, an international award for the best dancer in a new role, Emilie had returned from Moscow the night before and was rushing to fulfil her engagements before leaving to go on tour to Australia at the beginning of June. After morning class, she had been rehearsing Swan Lake with Patrice Bart, followed by Rubies, and had spent some time with Brigitte Lefèvre before depositing 15 pairs of pointe shoes at the Opéra workshop as she has not yet had the time to sort out how to work her new sewing machine! 

"I also loved playing the piano" the slender, fair-haired ballerina told me, "but when I began dance classes at the Conservatoire of Rouen, I was obliged to choose from lack of time. Since dance was my passion, I had to pass on music. Encouraged by my family to apply to the Opéra School, I was refused admission because I was too tall for my age. But luckily I didn't grow the following year and was accepted the second time round."

Her years at the Paris Opéra School were happy ones, where her classes were fun and where she danced many roles, from Balanchine's La Somnambule, and Western Symphony to a particularly beautiful pas de deux by Jiri Kylian. Contemporary choreographers fascinated her even then, and indeed, the first time I met her was as a shy, long-legged 14 year-old at a conference given by French choreographer, Angelin Preljocaj, whose works she could well be dancing next season.

For although this tall, graceful dancer was nominated for her classical purity, she has repeatedly been chosen by contemporary choreographers and revels in learning, for example, how to use the off beats and deconstruction of William Forsythe and throws herself into the strenuously athletic movements of Lock.

Ballet de l'Opera de Paris
Photo: Laurent Philippe

"Things were not quite so easy for me once I entered the company", she said. "I was seventeen and had just won the junior prize at the Paris International Competition , but had to start all over again, and work from the bottom. But I studied with and was encouraged first by Christiane Vaussard and then by Isabelle Guèrin, and soloist roles began to come along. I danced Clemence from Nureyev's Raymonda, and the young girl in Robbins' Afternoon of a faun. But above all, I seized every opportunity I was given to replace other dancers. The administration knows I can be relied on, even to taking on a role an hour before a performance."

But Emilie Cozette was not nominated étoile simply because she can be relied on. She has proved herself repeatedly this past year, not only in Lock and Forsythe, but in a most beautiful and moving interpretation of Odette/Odile in Swan Lake as well as in an extraordinary performance of Myrtha, from Giselle. Cold, frightening, she dominated the stage, casting a chill over the whole theatre.

Her Cinderella in Hollywood showed just another aspect of this very lovely, versatile artist, where she was both exciting and glamorous, yet touched your heart as surely as that of her prince. No dithering Cinders, this, but so much more than just a top-model in her ravishing, scintillating dress.

*Filmed in November, 1987

** A second film has just been made of the ballet with Agnès Letestu partnered by José Martinez and should be released shortly.

Patricia Boccadoro is dance editor at

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