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#Throwback Thursday: Cinderella

This week's #ThrowbackThursday is Cinderella.

Laura Cuthbertson, The Royal Ballet (Ashton)

Cinderella is an unusual ballet in that there have been three different versions of it. All three, however, follow the same basic storyline.

Alina Cojocaru, The Royal Ballet (Ashton)

Cinderella is acting as a servant for her step-mother and two step-sisters as they ready themselves for the Royal Ball, where it is rumoured that the Prince will choose his bride. Both librettos differ from the more famous Disney tale by giving Cinderella a father; but in two of the ballets he is under the control of the stepmother, and in the other he has little concern for his daughter. After the family goes off to the ball, leaving Cinderella alone, an old beggar woman shows up to the house. After accepting Cinderella's hospitality, she reveals herself to be the girl's fairy godmother. The fairy grants Cinderella's wish to go to ball, on the condition that she does not stay after midnight; at that time, everything the fairy has transformed - dress, carriage, horses - will turn back to its original state, with the exception of the glass slippers, which will remain as a gift.

Cinderella and her stepsisters

The Royal Ball is in full swing, and Cinderella's stepsisters are trying to attract the attention of the Prince; though the King seems to find favour with them, the Prince declines all offers to dance, reluctant to accept a marriage without love. Suddenly, a herald announces the arrival of an unknown princess. In disguise, Cinderella is not recognised by her family, who wonder who she could be. The Prince, enraptured, asks Cinderella to dance, and she accepts. Distracted by the Prince, Cinderella forgets about the fairy's warning. The clock begins to strike midnight. Cinderella flees, terrified of being unmasked in the presence of her family. Pursued by the Prince, she accidentally leaves one of her glass slippers behind. The slipper is found by the Prince, who swears not to rest until he has found her again.

Cinderella arrives at the Royal Ball

The Prince has it decreed that he will marry whichever maiden the shoe fits, and begins his search. He goes throughout his kingdom, trying the slipper on every maiden who attended the ball. Eventually, he arrives at Cinderella's home. The step-sisters try to force the shoe on, to no avail. As Cinderella leans down to help them, the other slipper falls from her pocket, and the Prince finally recognises her. Cinderella's family begs her forgiveness for treating her badly, which she gives gladly, and she and the Prince are married.

Maria Kochetkova and Joseph Walsh in Wheeldon's production

The first version of Cinderella was created by the prolific Russian ballet master Marius Petipa and his assistants Lev Ivanov and Enrico Cecchetti, to a score by Baron Boris Fitinhoff-Schell. The libretto, by Lydia Pashkova and Ivan Vsevolozhsky, was originally condemned as putting too much emphasis on drama and ignoring the story. However, when the Imperial Ballet premiered the work on December 17 1893 at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, it turned out to be a great success. This was due to its star, Pierina Legnani. The Italian ballerina caused a sensation on opening night, and the critics praised her performance as one of 'unprecedented perfection'. As well as Legnani as Cinderella, the original cast also featured Pavel Gerdt as the Prince, Anna Johansson as the Fairy Godmother, Timofei Stukolkin as Cavalier Pignarole (Cinderella's father), Giuseppina Cecchetti as the Stepmother, Maria Anderson and Mathilde Kschessinskaya as the Stepsisters, Nikolai Aistov as the King, Alexandra Ogoleit as the Queen, and Claudia Kulichevskaya as the Grand Pas soloist.

Pierina Legnani as Cinderella in the Petipa/Ivanov/Cecchetti 1893 premiere

The most celebrated part of this production was the scene of the Royal Ball in Act II, which featured a Grand Pas d'action, though the Night tableaux of Act III was also popular, and featured dances representing the Nile, Grenada, and Paris. Cinderella was one of Legnani's most celebrated roles, mainly because of her execution of 32 consecutive fouettes, the first time this had been done andabling a trick which Legnani brought to Swan Lake. Previously, Emma Bessone had managed 14 fouettes in the ballet The Haarlem Tulip. After Legnani's variation, the public demanded an encore, and Legnani performed the whole sequence over; it then became popular to count the ballerina's fouettes during the performance. The ballet was staged by Lev Ivanov for the Bolshoi Theatre on July 31 1898. Ivanov then restaged Act II for the farewell benefit performance of Pierina Legnani, on Fenruary 5 1901. This was to be the last performance of the ballet; even the score has been lost, as it was never published. The only thing remaining of the ballet today is the music for the female variation of the Le Corsaire Pas de Deux.

Anna Johansson as the Fairy Godmother in the Petipa/Ivanov/Cecchetti 1893 premiere

Cinderella did not return as a ballet until 1940, when Sergei Prokofiev began composing a new score for the ballet at the suggestion of Nikolai Volkov, who also wrote the libretto. The composition took four years to finish, since Prokofiev took a break from it to write his opera War and Peace. The ballet finally premiered at the Bolshoi Theatre on November 21 1945, conducted by Yuri Fayer with choreography by Rostislav Zakharov. Originally starring Galina Ulanova, the ballet is famous for its music and the comic roles of the step-sisters. Konstantin Sergeyev staged the work for the Kirov Ballet in 1946, and both Olga Lepeshinskaya and Natalia Dudinskaya found success in the role.

Above and Below: Moira Shearer and Michael Somes in the premiere of Ashton's 'Cinderella', 1948

The third version of Cinderella was choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton, who had had ambitions of choreographing a full-length ballet since 1939. However, this was necessarily dropped during the war, and it was not until 1948 that Ashton began work, using Prokofiev's score (the other option for a full-length ballet, Leo Delibes' Sylvia, was to be Ashton's second full-length ballet). Ashton cut some of the music, particularly of the national divertissement from Act III. The choreography is Ashton's homage to the classical style of Petipa. Much of the ballet focuses on dreams, usually unfulfilled, and had many echoes of Petipa's ballet, notably Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker. Cinderella is, however, an overall comedic ballet, and was premiered by Sadler's Wells Ballet on December 23 1948. The original cast included Moira Shearer as Cinderella, Michael Somes as the Prince, and Frederick Ashton and Robert Helpmann as the Step-sisters. Ashton then restaged the ballet for the Royal Ballet, a production which starred Margot Fonteyn and David Blair. Ashton's ballet is available on DVD, starring Antoinette Sibley and Anthony Dowell.

Above and Below: Margot Fonteyn in Ashton's revival of 'Cinderella' in The Royal Ballet

Here's the full-length Russian work, starring Ekaterina Maksimova and Konstantin Matveyev:

Recently Christopher Wheeldon has created his own version of the ballet to Prokofiev's score. Here's an excerpt of the pas de deux:

Thanks for reading!

- Selene


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