Cendrillon à l'Opéra Bastille, un ballet de Noureev sur un opéra de Prokofiev, mettant en vedette Ludmila Pagliero et Germain Louvet

When Cinderella dreams Hollywood

Alessandro Bizzotto reviews two performances of the Paris Opera Ballet production of a classic whose staging looks somehow dated

I have been loving Frederick Ashton’s “Cinderella” since the first time I saw it at the Royal Opera House in London – there’s something unique in what the British choreographer did while sewing the choreography on Prokofiev’s fascinating score to present the audience the perfect mix of tutus and storytelling. It has always been weird, then, to see Cinderella living in an old-fashioned American diner and dreaming about Hollywood.

When Rudolf Nureyev created his own “Cinderella” it could have sense to do so – the lead was danced by a true superstar, Sylvie Guillem, someone ready to leave the Paris Opera to move to the Royal Ballet and to become one of the most famous ballerinas of the century. Nureyev, who had nurtured her, reserved for himself the role of the producer who finds out Cinderella has talent and casts her for his new movie. Today, in our eyes, it all makes perfect sense.

Silvia Saint-Martin in ‘Cinderella’ © Yonathan Kellerman

It is something I don’t like to think nor to say, but I have always had the feeling that, without its original cast, this ballet lost sense in some way. To elaborate, Nureyev’s “Cinderella” doesn’t necessarily need Guillem, but it looks as if the whole ballet can work just with soloists of the highest calibre. As a matter of fact, the choreography itself is sketchy, nearly perfunctory, and more than once it seems to make it tough for the dancers to show their best. In addition, in a post-Harvey Weinstein era, our sensibility can easily find this twist on the original story even more awkward – can a woman be successful just if a man (a powerful producer) grants her a contract for a Hollywood production and if she makes a film star fall in love? The producer itself, after all, is quite stereotypical.

Silvia Saint-Martin and François Alu in ‘Cinderella’ © Yonathan Kellerman

I agree with those who think Nureyev himself wanted to reaffirm his own talent as a star-maker while staging this “Cinderella”. Besides Guillem, Kenneth Greve comes to my mind as an example, the Danish former dancer and then director of the Finnish National Ballet till he was fired due to (among other reasons) improper language towards the dancers – maybe he did not become a superstar as Guillem did, but he caused serious uproar among the Principals of the Paris Opera Ballet when Nureyev chose him as his protégé inviting him to dance the role of prince Siegfried in “Swan Lake”. Love for fame and success is still seeping out of this production, which is often funny but, in spite of the efforts of the company, one way or another dated.

Young Sujet (or Soloist) Silvia Saint-Martin makes her utmost in the title role, mastering the choreography and showing off an unripe yet promising lyricism. She would only have needed some more charm and better acting qualities to make the story alive and wholly understandable. Just as an example, in Act 3, despite being seated in the first row I didn’t realize that Cinderella was dreaming of the film set and then getting back to reality until I saw in the role Principal Ludmila Pagliero the following night – she is what you call an actress, besides being an exquisite ballerina. Pagliero, who is extremely gifted and relatively well known in the microcosm of ballet, is nearly sublime in the role and I guess she is one of the few today that can give this dusty “Cinderella” a sparkle of magic. It is a pity to see her so poorly partnered by Principal Germain Louvet – he may be a gifted and reliable partner, but his acting skills and his charisma are rather weak.

It is First soloist François Alu, Saint-Martin’s modern prince, that proves to have the potential to be an “acteur-vedette”. He does not dance as well as Louvet does – Alu might have a stronger technique, yet Louvet is more polished and he never over-dances as Alu sometimes does. However, François Alu has an impressive sense of theatre and is a spontaneous actor – in Act 3 it was almost hilarious to watch his flirtatious game with the girl in the Spanish cantina. It is just a little example, but Alu’s whole performance is convincing and genuine.

On stage as the two stepsisters with Saint-Martin and Alu, Aurélia Bellet and Charline Giezendanner are a pleasure to watch – they are simply explosive. Their acting game is flawless, Bellet is absurdly mean and Giezendanner, always so cute even as a step-sister, is never less than brilliant, dazzling the audience with quadruple pirouettes. The following night, opposite Pagliero and Louvet, Fanny Gorse and Marion Barbeau are more caricatural, yet fun all the same.