Mauro Bigonzetti’s new Cinderella, set to Prokofiev’s score, opened at La Scala with fine performances from Polina Semionova and Roberto Bolle as the eponymous heroine and her prince. Bolle is in blazing form and he shows off in a very Prince-like/Bolle-ish way, often entering from the wings with a macho series of grand jeté which he does with a bold I’m-the-most-handsome-Prince-in-the-world smile. Bolle’s entrance finally woke the piece up which until his entrance, which is in the second act, had limped along, charmingly enough, though it didn’t have much to say.
It seems to me that Bigonzetti isn’t a true choreographer, but more of an intelligent magpie taking steps from here and there. The Prince’s four friends nobly dressed by Maurizio Millenotti – two-time Oscar nominee – obviously must have had humble origins as they break into street-urchin steps from Oliver! as well a sequence straight out of the Lonesome Polecat number from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. The Stepmother and her daughters march around comically in very Ashton-like fashion and the three rigid Velázquez-style gowns they pop behind every now and then can only be an homage to Kylián.
Also, flexing a foot or moving the body off balance doesn’t make classical steps modern, just perverted. When the court enters, each couple bent and twisted in their bows, it recalls the Rocky Horror Show’s Time Warp: a group of oddballs ready to party. Sometimes the resulting positions are just plain ugly or vulgar, such as a promenade when Semionova, leg up high, is uncomfortably rotated by Bolle to give the audience an in-your-face crotch shot… I mean, she may be a modern girl with her mini-skirt – or are we in Velázquez’s 17th Spain? I wasn’t sure – but she’s still Cinderella. Bigonzetti also has some choreographic tics which are repeated ad nauseam, such as an outlining of the head with the hands, a move which should have been buried with 1970s pop videos.
But let’s get back to the best bits. Carlo Cerri’s sets and projections were often stunning allowing the Fairy Godmother to enter through the flames of the kitchen fire; the audience to be propelled from room to room, or season to season; and the scenery to disappear in an instant concentrating attention on the intimacy between Cinderella and the Prince. Millenotti’s costumes were gorgeous though, as so often with cinema designers, what works well for the close-up isn’t necessary ideal for the longer distances in a theatre, so the corps sometimes became a muddy mess, everyone blending in with each other and the projections.
Antonella Albano projected bags of personality as the slightly slutty stepsister, and Virna Toppi was excellent as her taller sibling. Stefania Ballone, however, as their mother, threw everyone else into the shade as she manically charged around the stage like a demented Tim Burton character and was comically spot on… the ovation she received during the curtain calls was well earned. Semionova, who was easy to overlook in the first act – probably due to the lighting and choreography – later came into her own, displaying her enviable quality of movement which is both muscular and soft. Nicoletta Manni was strong and secure as the Fairy Godmother.
I’ll finish, however, with another niggle. In a narrative ballet you must, ahem, narrate. Now what is the first thing that comes into your mind when you think of the Cinderella story? The shoe? Right! First she loses it, then the Prince makes her his bride when her foot fits it. Well, in this version she loses her skirt. No calm down… it’s not as bad as it sounds.
It was probably imagined that as they were dancing the clock strikes twelve – here, incidentally, signalled by a twelve o’clock leg by the Fairy Godmother – and she disappears from his embrace leaving him holding just her skirt. In reality there was a mini struggle to get her out of it, which gave a hint of date rape, but surely that was not the intention. So then the Prince searches for the girl whose slender waist will fit the skirt. The taller stepsister barely gets it over her head, the second only down to her shoulders. Then comes Cinderella and… well, we don’t know. She modestly goes offstage and puts it on in the wings. It’s like seeing a Wimbledon final and closing your eyes just as the trophy-winning shot is served, or reading an Agatha Christie novel and as Miss Marple says, “She was strangled by Mr…” you discover that the last page has been torn out. I mean, really… why?! It goes against story-telling and robs the audience of a theatrical climax.
This Cinderella is not a bad ballet, there is much to appreciate, but it’s not a very good one.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.