The star ratings system is a blunt instrument at the best of times but it becomes almost meaningless when faced with five-star performances in a two-star production. Alexei Ratmansky’s 2002 Cinderella was a disappointing end to the Mariinsky Ballet’s three week Covent Garden season. There is some exquisite writing for the heroine and her prince but the 2002 ballet remains blighted by hit-and-miss designs, cardboard characterisation and banal, unmusical ensembles. Only four days before, the Royal Opera House had been cheering Ratmansky’s masterly Concerto DSCH – does he have an evil twin?
The merits of the (male) season fairy solos – a dazzling burst of spring from Vasily Tkachenko – were sabotaged by hideous stretchwear and heavy face paint. The ballroom guests made a more attractive stage picture – a lipstick counter of fruity shades for the women, men like hired waiters in black tie and tails (the tiniest shudder ran through the front stalls) – but the stark palette and artful groupings made them look like a job lot of Jack Vettriano paintings. Ratmansky’s ballroom choreography quotes archly from the social dances of the 1920s – a little shim-sham here, a conga line there – but it is a feeble response to Prokofiev’s doomy, vertiginous music. The legendary Mariinsky corps de ballet can do anything; why give them so little to do? This two-star material is all the more exasperating because, packed inside it, like silver charms in a pudding, are the exquisite solos and duets for Cinderella and her prince.
Diana Vishneva, Ratmansky’s original Cinders, surprised once again on Friday with the girlish naturalism that made her opening night Juliet so affecting. Konstantin Zverev, a passionless Armand only four days earlier, was unrecognisably ardent and spontaneous.
The company’s farewell performance on Saturday was awarded to the heartbreaking Nadezhda Batoeva, a second soloist destined for higher things. Her soft jump and fleet feet made easy work of Cinderella’s mercurial solos, legs furling and unfurling with obsessive neatness, body melting mid-pirouette like a failed pot on a wheel.
Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella trades up from kitchen to ballroom without missing a beat but Ratmansky’s abused heroine, taking her cue from Prokofiev’s uneasy strings, is clearly unsettled by her makeover. Batoeva stands overwhelmed by the social whirl until Vladimir Shklyarov, eager and effortlessly virtuosic, arrives to sweep her off her feet.