The American Ballet Theatre version of "Cinderella" mocks bad taste in scene after scene--but the ballet itself is the most vulgar example of all.
A year ago, when it was new, this Mikhail Baryshnikov/Peter Anastos production struck some of us as a joke, starting with the cramped, overdressed settings by Santo Loquasto--set against a backdrop of octagonal foil tiles that gave the whole ballet the look of a chi-chi bathhouse entertainment.
At that time, however, there was still hope that the muddled approach to the story, the sketchy choreographic content and the nasty attitude towards women might all be modified.
Well, there were certain modifications in the "Cinderella" performed Thursday in Shrine Auditorium. The men cast as the ugly stepsisters no longer danced in toe shoes, and--in what a company representative characterized as a periodic whim of management--the dark beauty of both Marianna Tcherkassky (Cinderella) and Elaine Kudo (the Masked Lady resembling Cinderella) was cheapened and nearly obliterated by dishwater-blonde wigs.
The narrative approach, as before, alternated between Socialist Realism and Hollywood Babylon--with women the target of nearly every satiric jibe. (Indeed, two scenes in the last act--not in the original libretto--brought in additional women characters for additional mockery.)
Yes, Cinderella and the Fairy Godmother (Susan Jaffe) did escape the prevalent misogyny, but neither were given any character development in the mime scenes or any purposeful choreography elsewhere. They simply dithered lyrically while the most distinctive dancing went to the Prince (Danilo Radojevic), his four chums, those grasping stepsisters, anxious merchant's daughters and that seductive Masked Lady.
With its dark and often harsh sonorities, Sergei Prokofiev's score required choreography sensitive to emotional undercurrents and quick shifts of mood. Baryshnikov and Anastos provided little more than generalized, diversionary showpieces--ignoring the surging passion and ominous rumblings in the Act II waltz, for instance, so they could stage a tidy little divertissement .
Baryshnikov and Anastos had promising ideas--notably the five "Parfum de Nuit" women in shifts and loose hair who materialized as premonitions of Cinderella's entrance at the ball and also provided a glimpse of a more natural femininity in this overdressed, oppressive court. But these ideas remained undeveloped or were fumbled.
Thus the "Parfum" women turned into mere cloak-room monitors (removing Cinderella's cape before the big pas de deux), before their potential for either social commentary or poetic abstraction had been defined, much less explored.
The cast Thursday danced well enough--with Tcherkassky exceptionally fleet, gracious, secure and sympathetic; Radojevic snapping off bravura feats with military precision; Jaffe managing to dance elegantly in her cumbersome skirt; Kudo highly alluring; David Cuevas and Thomas Titone mugging outrageously as the stepsisters.
They are pros and deserve a better showcase--along with better accompaniment than the harsh, raw playing heard Thursday under Alan Barker. For the Baryshnikov/Anastos "Cinderella" is nothing less than a million-dollar imposition--on the dancers' talent, on Prokofiev's score and, most of all, on the endearing fairy tale and those who can still be touched by it. If, as reported, the production is being junked after this season, it won't be a minute too soon.