Popular story ballets come in waves, and it seems like we’re now experiencing a virtual tsunami of Cinderellas. We’ve counted at least 25 companies who mounted a production in the last few years. Riding that crest, we interviewed five ballerinas who have danced the role of the girl who sobs into the cinders, is blessed by a Fairy Godmother, and blossoms into a beautiful princess, reflecting the nobility of her soul.
Dancer, the Joffrey Ballet
Choreographed by Frederick Ashton in 1948 for The Royal Ballet (then Sadler’s Wells Ballet), U.S. premiere by the Joffrey in 2006
I loved the variation in the ballroom scene. There’s a manège at the end of it—two circles around—and I’ve never been dizzier in my life. I remember laughing through the second circle because I couldn’t see anything.
Ashton was brilliant at bringing life to different characters. The stepsisters, honestly, steal the show. You wouldn’t really notice that they’re dancing, but it has to be musical or it loses some of the comedy. There’s one part where Cinderella has to mock one of the stepsisters. A dancing coach comes in and teaches the stepsisters how to dance, and one of the stepsisters dances terribly. I would have to watch each night because they would do it differently and I would try and do exactly what they did. It’s a lot of fun to play off of them.
The production is so lush and grand; so many things are almost over the top—not in a gaudy way but in a breath-taking way. I remember coming out of the stagecoach that circles around the stage at the end of the first act, and I would have chills. Then Cinderella comes down the stairs on pointe, looking straight ahead, with her cape behind her. The prince helps me; he’s holding my hand, but I can’t look, so he has to be my eyes. You have to come down a few stairs, bourrée forward a little bit, and come down a few more stairs. He has to squeeze your hand when you’re at the edge. It’s a little scary; I don’t think anyone’s breathing at that point.
The ballet is about Cinderella finding confidence and having this magical experience. It’s incredible to go from rags to one of the most stunning tutus I’ve ever worn. It all ends back in that dark house, but you see the beauty in it at the end—not everything is so bleak. It definitely says something about class issues. This girl who’s dreaming of something she thinks she could never have is still seen with open eyes by the prince.
Principal, National Ballet of Canada
Choreographed by James Kudelka in 2004
This production is not your traditional fairy tale. It’s set in the late 1920s and has a very art deco feel. Cinderella’s stepmother is an alcoholic and her sisters take things out on her. It’s so in-your-face that sometimes it’s funny. If you really look at it, it’s pretty sad. But Cinderella’s an idealist: Her values are pure and simple. She shows the prince what is important in life, brings him down to earth and makes him become a better person. His world is all about the paparazzi. She’s a little bit feistier and she knows there’s something better out there. She’s constantly put down, but she’s got an inner strength that allows her to not give up. There are times when she feels that her world is crumbling, but she keeps fighting.
Principal, Royal Danish Ballet
This Cinderella is a collaboration between the Royal Danish Ballet and Danish Dance Theatre, choreographed by Tim Rushton in 2008.
It’s very special to dance with Tim Rushton’s modern company, because Cinderella is the only girl on pointe. I start out with a lot of modern steps, then switch in the second act to more classical ballet. It’s a challenge to play a 16-year-old girl! Especially in the first act, I have to be very cute, very hyper, with a fire inside.
My favorite part is when I first see the prince. Maybe you can’t see it from the audience, but I have a very strong feeling inside. I tell myself this is the person I really love. The music is so big, and we have this moment of eye contact. It feels great.
Principal, Staatsballett Berlin
Choreographed by Vladimir Malakhov in 2004
Our version takes place in a ballet studio with dancers training. Cinderella is a girl who loves to dance, but the director doesn’t choose her. She falls asleep and dreams of performing a beautiful ballet with a principal dancer as her partner. I love the moment when she wakes up and understands it was imagined, sees her old training clothes and the studio walls. Slowly, through the steps, she remembers how she danced in the dream, until the “prince” appears in real life. The dancers in the school come in to give her flowers and congratulate her on a dream come true.
I think every young dancer has this dream—to become a soloist, dance with a star partner, have the audience adore you. It’s very close to the feeling of a girl in the beginning of her career.
Parts of the ballet are very funny. Instead of stepsisters, there are two ballerinas. One, danced by Vladimir Malakhov, is very fat, eating chocolate all the time onstage, and the other is wild and drunk. The audiences love it.
It’s very nice when a choreographer creates something for you, like Vladimir did for me with this role. It is an amazing present.
Choreographed by Vicente Nebrada for the company in 1995
Vicente Nebrada’s choreography is all about pas de deux work; it’s unique and very circular. It’s difficult and if you can do that, you can do any partnering there is out there. Vicente doesn’t tell you what story to tell. He leaves a lot of room for each Cinderella to interpret what she wants to be. I get taken away by the Prokofiev music; it always tells me what I need to do.
Cinderella is your classic little girl fantasy for a lot of people. She keeps her spirit strong even when she’s being tormented, and she doesn’t lose the goodness inside of her. During the Act III solo, you can get so lost, you’re so overwhelmed and happy. It’s like you’re not dancing in front of an audience anymore. You meet your prince and there’s that take-your-breath-away moment; it’s like finding your soul mate.
Photo: Herbert Migdoll, Courtesy Joffrey