The Russian State Ballet of Siberia came to the Theatre Royal Brighton this week with a trio of classic ballet performances to impress a range of audiences. The Badger was honoured to attend a dazzling production of Sergei Prokofiev’s Cinderella Tuesday evening; the 1940s ballet puts a light-hearted, comedic spin on the traditional dance style, bringing the classic fairy-tale to life for adults and children alike.
A brief and modest first half introduces us to our protagonist who charms audiences with her grace and timidity. Styled in flowing grey tatters, Cinderella simpers in the background, tending to the desires of her obnoxious Step-Sisters who move with a boyish and beastly flamboyance. Sexual transgression plays a major role in shaping this mid-Twentieth Century conception of villainy; the Step-Sisters’ dress is garish and vulgar and their movements are grotesque in their breadth and sharpness. This queer coding is most evident in the Step-Mother, performed by a male dancer in travesty, although his performance is resoundingly hilarious nonetheless. His expressive physicality, comic timing and silly expressions render his the best individual performance of the evening.
A whimsical ensemble performance before the interval offers a hint at a stronger and more spectacular half to come. Fairies of the four seasons gather to guide Cinderella through a kind of dreamscape; richly coloured, fantastical costumes combine with elegant synchronised dances and a trancelike score. This sequence makes the best use of the company’s dynamic secret weapon: a digitised backdrop that here portrays a framed portrait morphing into life. Stars twinkle against a deep blue night’s sky, then amber leaves and raindrops storm the dancers, who portray vibrant wasps or spin about with colourful umbrellas. The mayhem is for the most part benevolent. But we also encounter an army of red and black clad dancers who act as agents of impending midnight: the time all this glorious magic will cease. A daunting score adds a sense of urgency to their formidable stage presence, articulated through their fierce pace and rigidity.
The show really takes off when the curtains lifts post-interval on a marvellous ballroom glistening with a dozen virtual chandeliers. Dancers in huge wigs and bright layered dresses twirl about the stage – the Step-Sisters are there once more with their jutterry animalistic moves and hungry grins. When the Prince enters, we are struck by his charming simplicity: the immaculate hair, the slick white and gold suit, the smooth and refined manner with which he carries himself. Casting and costumer design do wonders to produce the glorious couple – Cinderella and her Prince – that swoon and twirl and embrace onstage. I am utterly transfixed watching the pair of them, torn between admiring the technical complexity of the dance and simply being lulled into the peaceful, beautiful magic of the moment. The latter is of course the fate that befalls Cinderella, and with the fierce agents of time storming onstage and wrenching the pair apart, the mesmerising sequence come to a cruel and abrupt end.
The performance wraps up in a bit of a hurry as we gloss over the Prince’s travels for his mystery dancing partner and poor Cinderella’s return to her miserable home life. There’s time for the Step-Mother and Step-Sisters to pry a couple more pantomime laughs before the romantic couple are reunited and dance beneath the glittering night’s sky. In fairy-like blue and silver outfits, they seem unstuck from those limitations of time and class that once stood between them, and venture into some mystical paradise, snowflakes falling and stars twinkling above them.