Maguy Marin, choreographer; Françoise Joullié (
); Bernard Cauchard (
); Nathalie Delassis (
The Fairy Godmother
); Dominique Lainé (
); Jayne Plaisted, Danièle Pater (
); Patrick Azzopardi (
); Ballet & O of the Lyon Natl Op; Yakov Kreizberg, cond
ARTHAUS MUSIK 100 235 (DVD: 87:00)
This production was filmed in a studio, not in front of an audience, in 1989, but it holds up surprisingly well. This is not a traditional production of Prokofiev’s ballet. Choreographer Maguy Marin has turned it into a ballet of dolls, but has squeezed out all of the sugar. In fact, this is a dark take on Cinderella, and I am not sure I would recommend it for younger children. All of the dancers wear doll heads, which cover their own heads completely. These are old-fashioned doll heads—like the ones the Brothers Quay use in their films—and they are creepy. Some of them are even dirty or cracked. Furthermore, the costumes are padded and they often distort the shape of the dancers’ bodies. If David Lynch directed an episode of the Teletubbies, something like this might result.
Marin strips the story down to its essentials. Both Cinderella and her Prince, despite their different socioeconomic statuses, live in worlds of ugliness and cruelty. They themselves are islands of innocence, however, and in spite of that innocence, they are the least immature individuals. At times, as if to intensify an atmosphere of childish evil, Marin dispenses with Prokofiev’s music entirely, replacing it with a soundtrack of the voices of children and babies, amplified and sometimes frighteningly processed. Much of the score is cut, and what remains is reordered or altered. Prokofiev purists will be appalled by this production, no doubt, but if you’re willing to put prejudices aside, I think you will be impressed. What remains of the score is conducted very ably by Yakov Kreizberg (here spelled “Kreisberg”) and this itself is poignant, as Kreizberg died in 2011 at the age of 51.
One would think that dancers whose faces and athletic, graceful bodies cannot be properly seen would be at a disadvantage. Instead, the doll heads and the padding force them to act out their emotions with a high level of intensity. I really didn’t expect to get choked up by any production of this ballet, but there were moments throughout that deeply moved me.
Marin is not a classical choreographer, but one who uses both classical and modern dance to create characters and to tell her story. She does not hesitate to be ugly and cruel in a story which has both ugly and cruel elements. Cinderella receives a lot of physical abuse, dances awkwardly and falls several times after she is transformed by her Fairy Godmother (who is a sort of automaton, rather like the false Maria in Fritz Lang’s
). In the second act, she even falls down the palace stairs; good thing for the padded costume!
The dancing is superb. I don’t know how Françoise Joullié was able to move her body like that, let alone convey such emotion with it, but such is the miracle of modern dance at its best. To be fair, though, everyone’s dancing is miraculous in this production. Even viewers who don’t usually warm to this genre may find themselves heartily impressed by this unconventional take on
I sat down to watch this half thinking that I was going to hate it. I was hooked within five minutes. I strongly recommend this DVD to anyone with even a smidgen of interest in modern ballet. A popular and critical hit when it appeared in the late 1980s, it remains viable and looks great on DVD. There are no extras on this DVD, but don’t let that dissuade you: this needs to be seen.