In one project after another, Russian choreographer Alexei Ratmansky has been a leading creator of what we can categorize under Unnecessary Remakes: ballets with solid-gold titles and scores that exist in infinitely better versions than the ones he churns out for major companies.
Consider the three-hour 2002 Ratmansky "Cinderella," which Russia's mighty Mariinsky Ballet brought to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Thursday. It's no secret that "Cinderella" ballets using the alternately brooding and antic music of Sergei Prokofiev thrive in Europe and America — including at least two stagings by former Mariinsky dancers and one genuine masterpiece: Frederick Ashton's 1948 creation for what is now Britain's Royal Ballet. What's more, five years before the Mariinsky production, Matthew Bourne introduced a non-balletic "Cinderella" that represented exactly the kind of updated, precedent-shattering retelling that Ratmansky seems to be aiming for here.
Unfortunately, more gets lost at the Dorothy Chandler than a glass slipper. There's no edge to Ratmansky's storytelling, no magic and no heart. Instead, he supplies an aggressive choreographic style that dismembers familiar classical syntax and reassembles the pieces in arbitrary new patterns à la William Forsythe. But, at 47, Ratmansky can't craft movement-mosaics with Forsythe's lucidity. And Ratmansky's style pretty much delivers this ballet to the stepsisters — who are supposed to be bad dancers — and leaves Cinderella lost in a world of balletic fragmentation.
Even the wondrous Diana Vishneva as Cinderella couldn't bring unity to the movement, but she danced with flawless, fearless authority on Thursday, her only performance in the four-day engagement.
Attempts at novelty often misfired — staging modern pop dances to Prokofiev, for example (something that Bourne did brilliantly), or conceiving Cinderella as an outsider even at the ball, or having men trying on that glass slipper. There also seemed to be some complex emotional agenda in the final pas de deux, but it didn't read at opera-house scale, and by that time it was much too late.
What you heard was Gavriel Heine leading the company orchestra in a sumptuous and often profound performance of the score. But the only organic movement on view came from the rising, sliding, revolving architectural scenic units designed by Ilya Utkin and Yevgeny Monakhov.
Choreography for the Prince approached conventional virtuosity, and Konstantin Zverev seized his opportunities splendidly, as well as strongly partnering with Vishneva in the difficult stop-and-go duets. The roles of the stepmother and sisters required Sofia Gumerova, Margarita Frolova and Yekaterina Ivannikova to punch out deliberately awkward step-combinations relentlessly, and they did so with spirit. Often shoe-horned into sequences for no evident reason, the strangely costumed Vasily Tkachenko, Alexei Popov, Konstantin Ivkin and Andrei Solovyov played the four seasons and Cinderella's attendants, upholding the exemplary sheen of Mariinsky male dancing.
Other prominent soloists in the Thursday cast included Elena Bazhenova, Viktoria Brilyova, Yuri Smekalov, Diana Smirnova and Islom Baimuradov. Indeed, the company as a whole looked game, but, inevitably, its peerless expertise became trivialized. And for what?
Mariinsky Ballet's 'Cinderella'
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
Tickets: From $28