The mighty Mariinsky arrives in Edinburgh, its orchestra purring into life under director Valery Gergiev like a vintage Rolls-Royce, but with its thoroughbred dancers, alas, yoked to the milk-cart of Alexei Ratmansky’s choreography. Ratmansky, now a considerable talent, was not on finest form when he created his setting of Prokofiev’s pungent score in 2002; it is a curious decision to present it when the company possesses so much of unquestionable greatness in its repertoire.
As far as ballets go, this one has precious little dancing, of the classical sort at least. The corps mug, flap and shimmy their way through tawdry little moves, light years away from their danse d’école, a reference point for ballet worldwide. Ratmansky has eschewed beauty of movement for caricature, the rarefied for the vernacular, and rides roughshod over the rhythms and pulses of this extraordinary score.
It is only when Cinders meets her Prince in the Act II ball that neo-classical dancing of real quality finally bursts forth, an artistic sigh of relief after the distortions and leadenness of all that surround it: vampish stepmother, drunken father, bored dance teachers et al. The pair’s dancing is, however, never more than a diamond in the very rough indeed – the Fairy Godmother and the Four Seasons, for instance, are now a bag-lady and a luridly costumed quartet of men. It is unworthy stuff, unworthy of this great troupe whose dancers look understandably uncomfortable.
The setting too is bargain-basement: West Side Story fire escapes and a few uncomfortable chairs for home, and a station hall on the St Petersburg metro for the palace – Cinderella’s low-key arrival at the ball looks as if she has got off at the wrong stop. Costumes are blocks of eye-popping colours, the men’s trousers of the deeply unflattering Soviet ice-dance variety.
Diana Vishneva, great artist that she is, manages to transcend it all and, when in pas de deux with Igor Kolb’s attentive Prince (underpowered in solo work, undiminished as a partner), carves wondrous lines of movement, mesmerising in motion. The Mariinsky orchestra is monumentally good under Gergiev, both powerful and subtle, its phrasing exquisite, its evident love of this music a second palliative for a terminally ill evening.