© Angela Sterling
Cinderella, from the depths of her solitude, lets herself be invaded by the memories of her Mother and her Father, the image of lost family happiness and love. A shared anguish—conjured up from this dream, or actual presence—remains with the child and her Father.
Cinderella, holding in her arms the dress her Mother was wearing for her last ball, remains pensive. Her Father, in light of his new family, is not quite the same. Distressed, he hesitates between the desire to protect her and the submission to his new wife. Cinderella, with her Stepmother and her Stepsisters, discovers the violence of power struggles, rejection, ill will, and tyrannical gestures. A strange messenger comes to put an end to the two Sisters’ quarrels: She brings an invitation from the Prince for the court ball. The Pleasure Superintendents, beauty experts, are ready to officiate.
© Angela Sterling
Whimsical characters, the Pleasure Superintendents are the foremen of the festivities. They bring the ball dresses, exhibited on four Mannequins, half-human, half-mechanical figures, half-masked, giving the impression of a fashion show. The Sisters and the Stepmother take great care with their faces. In their impatience and greed, they rush to grab the dresses, only take half of them, and look at themselves in rapture in front of large, distorting mirrors. Cinderella becomes aware of the invitation, but her new family makes fun of her and sends her back to her lentil dish. The Sisters and Stepmother go to the ball, satisfied.
ENTRANCE OF PRINCE CHARMING
The young, charming Prince appears, in the company of his Friends, as an adolescent blessed with luck, but little maturity, disappointed not to find what he is desperately missing. A touching character, he tries to give meaning to his life by small pleasures, which disappoint him as soon as they are satisfied. Both Pleasure Superintendents are busy with the preparations.
THE STORY WITHIN THE STORY
© Angela Sterling
The Fairy tears the young girl from her dirty linen and lentil chores and tells her the story of “Cinderella”: The four Mannequins and the two Pleasure Superintendents perform for the amused young girl a caricatured and grotesque “Cinderella”. The Fairy puts on the modest young girl the dress her Mother was wearing at her last ball. Then she carries out the transformation: The young girl’s foot comes sequined out of her lentil dish—a magical image, but a warning from the Fairy: You have to remain simple. Sequins are fragile, volatile, and will lose their wonderful properties if Cinderella forgets the essential quality.
VISION OF THE BALL
The Fairy prepares Cinderella for her entrance into the world. She lets her glimpse the vision of the horizon towards which she has to walk: In the background, the young girl attends the scene of the ball of which she cannot say whether it is real or a dream.
© Angela Sterling
Both Pleasure Superintendents arrive at the ball, followed by the Fairy, then by the two Sisters and the Stepmother. The Prince makes his entrance, together with his Friends. He sits on his throne and looks at the courtesans’ parade without showing much interest. He does not find what he is looking for. In turn, the Stepmother and the daughters begin to try and seduce him, but in vain. Someone announces to the Prince the arrival of a strange person. Fascinated, afraid, the Prince seems to understand that he is about to be delivered a message. The Father also looks disturbed: It seems to him, without really believing it, that he recognizes his first wife in the Fairy. He looks for the one and the other, going from memory to reality. The Fairy puts a blindfold on the Prince’s eyes. Cinderella comes in: Her feet walk into the ballroom by themselves, naked and painted. Having recovered his eyesight, the Prince, fascinated, kneels before them and discovers love with humility. The pas de deux of the young couple matches the one of the Mother and Father, united in a same loving surge—a dance of redemption, reconciliation for the Father, who seems to find peace at last. Cinderella and the Prince continue dancing alone.
Cinderella begins to take pleasure in the other courtesans’ mirrors. She gets intoxicated by this ambient madness and its codes of seduction. She appropriates its emblems. It is time for the Fairy to bring Cinderella back on the right path. At the top of the stairs through which she escapes, her bare foot appears in the light—the only trace of her being there and an invitation to find her again.
Cendrillon © Angela Sterling
PRINCE CHARMING’S TRAVELS
The Pleasure Superintendents draw the image of the foot which is being sought. Provided with this sketch, the Prince and his Friends travel aimlessly to find the beautiful, unknown girl. The Prince discovers the foreign country of Exotics. Although tempted, he still does not recognize the foot he is looking for. Then, the Fairy guides him to Cinderella: It is within himself that he will find her.
The Sisters get ready to seduce the Prince, but the feet he discovers underneath the bandages are black and bruised. Cinderella’s foot is unveiled in its purity: The Prince recognizes Cinderella at once.
Rejecting his second wife, the Father waltzes with the Mother/Fairy. Dancing their love again, he accompanies her down to her last breath, until death cancels remorse.
Story and translation courtesy of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo.
Music: Sergei Prokofiev (Cinderella, Op. 87, 1940-1944; with an excerpt from Lieutenant Kijé, 1933-1934)
Choreography: Jean-Christophe Maillot
Staging: Bernice Coppieters, Bruno Roque, Asier Uriagereka
Scenic Design: Ernest Pignon-Ernest
Costume Design: Jérôme Kaplan
Lighting Design: Dominique Drillot
Duration: 2 hours
Premiere: April 3, 1999; Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo
Pacific Northwest Ballet Premiere: February 3, 2017
The 2017 PNB premiere of Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Cendrillon is generously underwritten by Dan & Pam Baty. Lucien Postlewaite’s guest appearance is sponsored by H. David Kaplan.
© Angela Sterling
Loyal to his reputation as a fairy tale paleoanthropologist, Jean-Christophe Maillot strips Cinderella of its sugar-coated layer and delivers a poignant meditation on the way in which people who disappear shape the future of those left behind. The theme of a prince who marries a peasant girl (an idea responsible for the shattered dreams and hopes of entire generations) is not given a lead role here. The choreographer denies this idea the importance it is usually given, preferring to focus on the emotional cogs that drive this timeless tale forward.
“Our dead…our poor dead. They ask for so little, and receive still less!” as François Truffaut lamented in The Green Room (La Chambre verte). Refusing to forget the deceased, his character keeps their memories alive with a passion that results in driving the living away. Maillot contemplates the same issue as soon as the curtains part: Cinderella appears, holding her deceased mother’s white dress in her hands. The object is a complex one. Cinderella buries her face in the fabric in a search for comfort, but almost instantly twists the dress into the unsettling shape of a rope. This embodies the complexity of bereavement: How can we remember those who have gone without their memory causing us pain? Maillot’s ballet shows us how Cinderella and her father solve the problem—a journey that the choreographer himself once embarked upon.
© Angela Sterling
It is first and foremost Cinderella who seeks answers. Her father, more resigned, has started a new life for himself by marrying another woman. Yet in this new family over which he exerts little control, he is forbidden from dwelling over the past. What once was has become taboo under the influence of the Stepmother and her two daughters. Through these three characters, the choreographer breathes new life into the myth of the stepmother and her ugly daughters. This is no prudish, sour, or bad-tempered woman, and nor are her daughters ugly or stupid. The habitual black-and-white take on the subject is set aside by the choreographer, who believes there is something good, or at least beautiful, in everyone. The three women in this new family are powerfully erotic. The Stepmother is a dazzling seductress who uses her charm to erode her husband’s authority. Her two daughters, meanwhile, understand the infallible power of the weapon of seduction, and under their mother’s guidance, learn to use it to formidable effect.
Maillot masters the art of lending nuance to characters the entertainment industry generally paints with broad strokes. In his work, the “goodies” irritate, while the “baddies” inspire our sympathy. Jérôme Kaplan’s costumes are beautiful illustrations of the theme. The Stepmother and her daughters move away from the traditional austere dresses and harshly pulled-back hair, instead appearing in colorful undergarments and extravagant wigs. Their dances are provocative: legs slicing through the air, bottoms and hips swaying as they sashay through the court. Conversely, Cinderella’s dance is fragile, moving, broken up into moments of yearning in which Cinderella demonstrates her desire to move forward, interspersed with moments of despair (mirrored by her father), where sorrow and pain render her static, symbolic of the emotion of bereavement. To break the circle, Maillot has created another lead character, the Fairy, a radiant reminder or magical reincarnation of Cinderella’s mother. Memories finally cease to be painful. The memory of the deceased fades before a force that grants the power to change the course of things to come. Thanks to the Fairy, Cinderella frees herself from the traps of the artificial world in which we first found her.
© Angela Sterling
In addition to a reflection on mourning, Cinderella is a funny, incisive take on a society crammed full of artifice, where the quest for pleasure strips its inhabitants of any sense of reality. Frenzied distraction rubs shoulders with idleness, and the palace’s two Superintendents of Pleasure are on hand to entertain a moribund court slowly suffocating from boredom. Yet again, Maillot gives these two key characters movements all of their own. Every step, every jump reflects the over-excitement, one-upmanship, and thirst for happiness they seem to mindlessly promote. Their faces frozen in idiotic smiles and mechanical movements illustrate their role as puppets of pleasure. In this world in which everyone play-acts at living, human beings of flesh and blood are a dying breed. The four mannequins who bring in the ball gowns and handle a puppet theater are the perfect embodiments of this concept. In contrast to this, Cinderella is simplicity incarnate (a key concept that influenced Ernest Pignon-Ernest’s scenic design). She needs no accessories to render her beautiful, and even the famous glass slipper is replaced here with a bare foot glistening with delicate, ephemeral gold dust. Cinderella’s bare foot becomes a symbol of ballet. It symbolizes not only the simplicity and starkness of this young girl, but also a part of the body without which dance would not exist. The foot is the pivot of choreographic art, its pillar, its momentum, its take-off, and its survival.
© Angela Sterling
Somewhere between Cinderella and the lying, cheating world she inhabits is the Prince, imprisoned in his palace, brooding as he waits for a more real existence. Having only ever known flattery and emotional repression, he is unaware of the real world. Everything slips between his fingers like sand; he has no memory to hold on to because he has never truly lived. A spectator of his own life, he is suspended between life and the void. His moments of desolation and dejection differ from those experienced by Cinderella, yet they, too, hint at a dream of a different life. The Fairy blindfolds him so he may know love beyond a pretty face, and he is forced to leave his world to seek the one he loves. The young woman’s salvation does not lie in the social status her future husband can offer her: The Prince must abandon his palace and prostrate himself “at the feet” of his loved one. Thus, the lovers embark on a journey hand-in-hand, ready to take on all that the world offers up to them. Death is no longer unbearable. The deceased walk beside them. And they lived happily ever after…
Notes courtesy of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo.