BEIRUT: Cinderella and all that she represents – ugly duckling-cum-royal bride, the conquest of poverty through romantic love – is a tale with near universal recognition.
A retooled version of the Cinderella story, “Cendrillon,” a ballet choreographed by Jean-Christophe Maillot for Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, is currently being staged at Casino du Liban. The official ballet troupe of the Principality of Monaco, Les Ballets de Monte Carlo first performed “Cendrillon” in 2004.
Called by turns humorous, thoughtful and impertinent, the ballet evolved from Maillot’s taking a different approach to the tale by avoiding the sentimentality inherent in the story.
Maillot has explained that, rather than working with the virtue of Cinderella or the evil of her stepfamily, he built his ballet on the idea of the foot fetish. He’s declared the foot to be the defining structural element of the story. It is the foot that turns the prince’s world around and inspires him to travel far and wide, carefully attentive of every foot on the way.
The importance of the foot to the dancer almost goes without saying – the foot structures dance as Maillot sees it structuring his Cinderella.
Maillot’s “Cendrillon” is performed in the midst of Ernest Pignon-Ernest’s clean, minimalist stage design. Inspired by the pages of the a picture book (so often the place where we are introduced to our first rendition of Cinderella), the stage is littered with 20 huge pages, 3 by 4 meters in size, upon which images, words and mood are projected to illustrate, as Pignon-Ernest has put it, something “between reality and phantasmagoria.”
Cinderella dances barefoot, fluid and controlled, in a simple dark-green gown. Throughout the show, her simple appearance is contrasted to the rest of the cast’s garish costuming, a riot of color, makeup and hair pieces.
Maillot’s choreography provides a rich source of characterization, successfully projecting the personality of each character with her own distinct style. Especially enjoyable was the Fey (Japanese ballerina Mimoza Koike) – more commonly known as “the Fairy Godmother,” thanks to Disney. Her tremulous movement, and her characterization of the mischievous architect of Cinderella’s newfound happiness, were a joy to watch.
Another audience favorite were the two Superintendents of Pleasure – gentlemen charged with facilitating the glorious excess and nefarious plotting of the wretched stepmother and her two daughters. Their loud and cheeky onstage presence was a constant source of amusement.
Cinderella’s phantasmagoric journey to her happy ending is a riotous one. In an effort to recreate for themselves the foot that the prince desires, for instance, the two stepsisters decide to take a stab at plastic surgery.
The show ends in an unexpected stroke of quiet sentimentality. As Cinderella embraces her prince, at the far side of the stage, her father clutches a pure white gown that once belonged to Cinderella’s mother, mourning her untimely death and his miserable marriage to Cinderella’s stepmother.
It is a poignant reminder that not everyone gets their own happy ending.
Les Ballets de Monte Carlo’s “Cendrillon” continues at Casino du Liban through Nov. 6. For more information, call +9613656065.