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Monaco ballet's Cinderella enchants

By Cheng Yuezhu | China Daily | Updated: 2019-03-25 10:22

In the fairy tale Cinderella, the main character is known for the glass slipper she leaves behind, but in Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo's production, she dances with her bare feet covered in glistening gold dust.

When dancers from the Monaco ballet company swept across China recently, they managed to connect Monaco and China through another golden trail, this time in the form of cultural exchange.

Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo presented Cendrillon (Cinderella) at the Shaanxi Opera House in Xi'an on March 8 and 9 and at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing from March 14 to 16.

The production was created by Jean-Christophe Maillot, a French choreographer and director of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, on music that Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev wrote for the Cinderella story in 1943.

Maillot gives a neoclassical rendering of the classic story, presenting it in a way that is closer to modern life and everyday reality.

The ballet begins with a clear contrast. At one end of the stage sits Cinderella, holding her mother's dress and weeping with grief, and at the other end a pas de deux portrays her fond memory of a lost loving family.

"I think in Maillot's Cinderella, the characters are taken from a story, but they are actually very real," said Alessandra Tognoloni, a cast member who dances the Cinderella role. "The movements are consistent with what the character wants to say, like how a normal human being would be acting in a normal day."

Francesco Mariottini, who dances as the prince, said: "In his ballet, there is nothing too extreme or too crazy. It's actually very pure, very normal."

Yet the production is not devoid of the ethereal characteristics of the original fairy tale. Apart from the iconic conceptual "glass slippers", the staging features a giant prop of white pages, as if the story is unfolding on an actual book.

The fairy that lifted Cinderella out of her sorrow and suffering is the incarnation of her late mother, offering the prospect that the dead can still, in a way, protect the living.

It's a fairy tale for adults and children, Tognoloni said, pointing out that the theme of love is universal and one that everybody can relate to.

The production, created in 1999, is among Maillot's 30 or so works for Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo. He joined the company in 1992 and was appointed as its head by Caroline, Princess of Hanover, in 1993.

Princess Caroline established the company in 1985 as the official troupe of the Principality of Monaco.

In the ballet company's relatively short yet star-studded history, it has established a close connection with China. It made its China debut in 2000 in Beijing and Shanghai with its production of Romeo and Juliet.

Ou Jianping, a dance critic and scholar, described the varied sensations he felt at its performances over the years, ranging from "speechless" to "captivated".

This year is the fifth time that the ballet has performed at the National Centre for the Performing Arts. Cinderella was in fact staged at its very first NCPA performance, and the dancers said that the ballet is growing while staying true to the original.

"The base is the same. The movement, the story and the message he (Maillot) wants to show to the public are the same," Mariottini said. "But with every show or new dancers, somehow he would be inspired to change a few little things."

Tognoloni and Mariottini have both performed a number of times in China. "China is very open for European dance companies, so a lot of the companies come here," Mariottini said.

A representative from Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo said that the company is now cooperating even more closely with Chinese theaters and is planning to come to China every year.

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