Cinderella, Royal Opera House, London<br/> Swan Lake, Royal Opera House, London<br/> Into the Hoods, E4 Underbelly, Edinburgh

They're all ready for their close-ups
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

As if being one of the biggest, most politically fought-over ballet companies in the world were not Babylon enough, the Bolshoi is now embracing Hollywood. Actually, on the evidence of the current season, the Bolshoi is taking Hollywood in a great, Russian bear-hug, and squeezing it until the tinsel squeaks. After the opening, Egyptianate spectacle of The Pharaoh's Daughter, which would have had Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor blinking at the excess, the company unveiled a new Cinderella with more film references than a Halliwell's guide.

Most Cinderellas open modestly, if only to create a greater contrast with the transformation scenes to come. This one begins with the composer, Prokofiev, balanced like The Little Prince on his own private moon, while a flock of ravens disport themselves in outer space until Cinders comes along to shoo them with a broom. Her subsequent, over-optimistic solo - too many applause points, not enough reasons to clap - sets the tone for a ballet in which most of the pleasure derives from the incidental detail.

Hans Dieter Schaal's otherworldly sets, Sandra Woodall's glamorous 1930s costumes and the hyperactive inventiveness of the director, Yuri Borisov, regularly overwhelm the steps. Presented with a transparent dancing tea-set and a dusty-headed broom, choreographer Yuri Possokhov appears so paralysed by the spectre of Disney's Beauty and the Beast that he fails to make any use of the anthropomorphic possibilities. All we see is ordinary people in pointlessly cumbersome outfits. He is more confident with the retinue of grasshoppers, dragonflies, sunflowers and finches that attend the four seasonal fairies who prepare Cinderella for the ball, and there is real opulence to the high sweeping kicks of Natalia Osipova, in particular, as the fairy of Autumn. But even when he clears the stage and gets Cinderella and the Prince alone together, Possokhov's choreography only occasionally relaxes and breathes.

Most of the time, his Cinderella is best enjoyed as a musical without songs, almost, at times, a living Fantasia - especially at the beginning of the second act when a vast image of the conductor, Alexander Vederkinov, is projected live onto a screen at the front of the stage, like a cross between Mickey Mouse and the Wizard of Oz. The stepsisters, too, might have stepped out of an animated film, something they emphasise when they stick their heads through two holes above a painting of ball gowns, yoking themselves together for a brief comic skitter. Clumsy and buxom rather than ugly - which in ballet's moral shorthand probably makes them worse - they are pink marshmallow clowns, who get so tangled up during a dance lesson that they find themselves hanging from a ballet barre like a couple of candy sloths.

Elsewhere there are nods to Spielberg - a flying cyclist, seen against the moon - and Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel. And of course the spirit of Audrey Hepburn hangs over everything. On opening night Svetlana Zakharova gave us her best Sabrina, arriving wide-eyed at the ball, and a sparkling Eliza Doolittle, making her entrance down a towering staircase on the arm of Viktor Barykin's Prokofiev/Narrator. There was even a hint of Holly Golightly when she slid down the bannister into the arms of Sergei Filin's prince. Boy and girl don't meet much cuter than that.

There is a more surprising strain of cute running through Into the Hoods, a punning hip-hop take on the Sondheim musical, Into the Woods. Director Kate Prince and her part-professional, part-community based ZooNation company relocate a tangled skein of fairy tales to a rundown tower block, where two runaway children are trying to steal Spinderella's trainers, Rap-on-zel's golden weave, Lil Red's famous hoodie and an iPod belonging to someone called Jaxx (who lives in the basement). Everyone mimes and dances to a pre-recorded soundtrack that samples anything from Prince to Portishead, and there is more than enough wit and energy to make up for the odd bit of amateurishness.

As a way of treating beloved fairy tales, there could hardly be a greater contrast with either of these shows than the Bolshoi's Swan Lake, created by the company's erstwhile tyrant, Yuri Grigorovich. Divided between just two acts, everything takes place in the imagination of a morbidly self-mythologising prince. The swan princess, Odile, instead of being the centre of the story, becomes a fantasy object, a piece of bait to snare his sanity. Unfortunately, claustrophobic though the production is, it still looks far too much to fit inside the head of Ruslan Skvortsov's amiably clueless Siegfried.

Nevertheless there is something perversely admirable in the bloody-mindedness of Grigorovich's vision, even the brutal climax. When the body of Odile is thrown at Siegfried's feet and he collapses, with no hope of reconciliation in this life or the next, it is a blunt, sardonic rebuke to those of us who mock the traditional Russian happy ending. In such a fanatic, delusory production, perhaps it's no wonder that Zakharova presented a slightly narcissistic Odile, where something about the tilt of the head was less swan than Swanson: "I'm ready for my close-up now, Mr De Mille." Or maybe that's just Hollywood, again. Zakharova, though, like Norma Desmond, is still big: it's the ballet that got smaller.

'Into the Hoods', E4 Udderbelly, Edinburgh (0870 745 3083) to 28 Apr. 'Swan Lake', ROH, London (020 7304 4000) to 16 Aug

Comments