It wouldn’t be Christmas without the Siberian Ballet at St David’s Hall, Cardiff, and this year they have four shows scheduled for the festive period. Their opening gambit, Prokofiev’s Cinderella, is my second time with their take on the ballet, and a borderline experimental work – the harsh, skewered music of Prokofiev brought this lively audience to attention.
There is plenty of soppy music here, too, though it’s the more bizarre, twisted moments I find greater joy in. Assuming you know the fairytale, it’s easy to follow what’s on stage. Ever the character, conductor Anatoliy Chepurnoy appeared thrilled to be back playing again. The Ballet Orchestra are a small but impressive set of musicians, even if at times the brass may have had the odd wobble.
The choreography, by Sergei Bobrov, is a sight to behold: retaining components of traditional ballet, yet peppered with a contemporary, angular fluidity. When the Stepmother and Stepsisters demand to eat, they simply put their fingers in their mouth (the universal sign of “I’m hungry”). When the Prince and Cinders see each other for the first time, they turn around, clutching their hearts, as buttery woodwind plays. You simply cannot take your eyes off these dancers.
Some problematic elements of who should be playing international characters is never far away in ballet. Here, this is only pondered in the opening of the slight second act, as the Prince travels the world to see who fits the slipper (or in this case the pointe shoe). For some strange reason, we arrive in Spain with mock flamenco dancers, only for an image of the Sagrada Família to turn up. We can let a generalised mistake like that aside when the dancing is just so marvellous.
Our Prince and Cinderella – Elena Svinko and Marcello Pelizzoni – kept us captivated with some glorious duets and solos, St David’s Hall not really big enough to capture their brilliance. The show could only ever be stolen by the Stepmum and Stepsisters, here taken on by Matvei Nikishaev, Yaroslava Bolsunovskaya and Anastasiia Osokina. Even in the ballet we see the stepmother played by a man, a tradition which seems to go back decades in most artforms that Cinderella features in. Their wit and selfish little moments tickled this audience, who seemed to be having a whale of a time. The Fairy is Anna Fedosova, a light and bright wisp in spirit as if she had only ever haunted this stage.
A highlight for me are the Time Heralds, who warn our heroine of the midnight curfew she is bound by. Clad in red and white waistcoats and veils, it’s a brutal moment every time we hear it. A flaming watch sways around the backdrop (this screen is a practical buffer for a lack of a set) as all sorts of mania is going on. The percussion pulsates and the brass is fraught and murmuring, by far the most daring and brilliant moment in the entire ballet.
With the standard repertoire productions on the way, I have a keen eye on the Russian State Ballet’s lesser-seen production of another Prokofiev classic, Romeo & Juliet.
St David’s Hall, Sat 18 Dec
Russian State Ballet continues at St David’s Hall with performances of The Nutcracker (Mon 20-Fri 24 Dec), Swan Lake (Mon 27-Thurs 30 Dec) and Romeo & Juliet (Fri 31 Dec + Sun 2 Jan).
words JAMES ELLIS