State Ballet Theatre of Russia
debuts at Penn State in Cinderella
By Jennifer Pencek
The synopsis of Cinderella may seem like the transcription of a dream—or a soap opera episode. A young girl’s mother dies and her father marries a crotchety woman with two mean daughters who treat the girl poorly. After the father dies, the orphaned girl is treated even worse. But then comes a ball, a prince, some glass slippers—and the rest is fairytale history.
Yet a twist always ensues, especially when the story is told in ballet. Through the choreography of Vladimir Vasiliev, a former star of the Bolshoi Ballet, the State Ballet Theatre of Russia puts its own spin, such as using male dancers in the role of the stepmother, in Cinderella. The fairy tale ballet, set to the music of Sergei Prokofiev, comes to Eisenhower Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, January 15.
“It’s a very interesting production,” says Igor Levin, managing director of Hollywood Entertainment Group, Inc., which produces State Ballet Theatre of Russia. “[Vasiliev] brings a model of ideas.”
Vasiliev started choreographing and staging for the Bolshoi and other major theatres in the former Soviet Union and abroad in the 1970s. One of his most noteworthy creations was a production of Cinderella for the Kremlin Ballet. Since his retirement from the Bolshoi in 2000, he has premiered and staged numerous productions, including Cinderella at Chelyabinsk Theatre and Romeo and Juliet at Brazil’s Teatro Municipal.
Vasiliev’s choreography helps tell the story, Levin says, but at the heart of any production must be something to which audiences can relate—an emotion or event that strikes at the core of those watching. He says with Cinderella, it could be the story of struggle or the journey the young girl takes to finally find her true love. But for some, finding meaning in Cinderella may involve relating to the realization of a common dream.
“It’s all people dream about,” Levin says. “If you work hard, your dreams will be a reality. It’s what people really want.”
The State Ballet Theatre of Russia, the touring name of the Voronezh State Theatre of Opera and Ballet, has been trying to give audiences what they want since its inception in 1961. The ballet company, which made its North American debut in the 2006–2007 season, performs a repertoire including Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Giselle, and Don Quixote. It has toured with productions of Russian classics throughout Europe and Africa. Among its fifty-four dancers are distinguished Russian artists and winners of international ballet competitions.
While she’s not familiar with the State Ballet Theatre of Russia’s production of Cinderella, Andrea Hill, artistic director of the Ballet Theatre of Central Pennsylvania in State College, does know about the power of story ballet.
“I definitely believe in the magic of story ballet,” she says. “People can identify with them more and our audiences appreciate story ballets more. It can bring out more dramatic impact. Even with tales like The Nutcracker, the more stories you can pull out of it, the more it makes the experiences more fulfilling for everyone.”
No matter the story, good preparation is essential.
“You have to have a good concept in place for your story,” Hill says. “We change up our stories quite a bit, and I feel our audiences really appreciate changes and are open to it, but it has to be done well or people will look at past productions and say, ‘Why didn’t they just pull from this?’”
Without knowing exactly how a story will be portrayed, Hill says, it’s best for people to leave preconceived ideas at the door. Cinderella has been adapted many times for various media, so the State Ballet Theatre of Russia’s version is bound to differ from other popular productions.
But the unknown, Hill asserts, is what makes performances such as Cinderella exciting.
“Going in not knowing what to expect can be helpful and make it more fun, kind of like not knowing what Christmas gifts you’ll open,” she says. “Sometimes you can be pleasantly surprised.”
State Ballet Theatre of Russia
7:30 p.m. Saturday, January 15
University Park Student $20
18 and Younger $24