Prague’s National Theatre is a stunning 19th century building, only a scenic ten minute walk along the Vltava river from the Four Seasons Hotel Prague. In an attempt to experience as much of the Czech Republic’s cultural treasures as possible, and knowing Prague’s love of modern ballet, we booked tickets to see Prokofiev’s Cinderella.
Sergei Prokofiev was an early 20th century Russian composer and Cinderella (Popelka in Czech) was composed between 1940 and 1944, around which time Prokofiev also wrote an opera, War and Peace, and several film scores. The music is favoured among the composers other work for its melodious quality and its dynamics.
The sweeping music that tells the story of Cinderella’s father and her deceased mother at the beginning, which returns at the end, is very emotional. However, due to the wit of the music, that pokes fun at the step-mother, step-sisters and a variety of obsequious servants in a way reminiscent of neo-classical elements from Prokofiev’s earlier works, I also spent a lot of time laughing. Other notable highlights were the use of a wood block to signify the coming midnight had a filmic quality, seeming to make time stand still, and the Russian folk melody which was woven into the story at the arrival of the Prince and his friends into Cinderella’s country.
In the title role, American Jade Clayton tugged at heart strings and then swept the crowd along with her in some fantastic scenes with Viktor Konvalinka as the Prince, some of which were – for the adults in the audience – vaguely suggestive of foot fetishism! However, it was Aya Watanabe, as the fairy godmother and Cinderella’s mother, who really captured the audience’s heart with her delicate and expressive performance. Choreography by Jeana-Christopha Maillota, of Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, complemented Prokofiev’s light-hearted approach with an element of pantomime in the physical comedy. The dancing of the step-mother and step-sisters was jokingly provocative and their self-regard was thoroughly lambasted in the vision of the future presented by the fairy godmother. In fact, this could even be perceived through the costumes which, in the vision, were exaggerated to the point of showing the step-mother with a Madonna-style pointed bra. All the costumes were very elegant and simple, comic additions aside, allowing the graceful movements of the dancers to shine.
The staging was contemporary and flexible, almost taking on a character of its own. A distorted staircase downstage provided a centrepiece when Cinderella made her exit from the ball and several screens were used throughout to represent a variety of partitions and mirrors, including showing a projection in the first scene, an example of how Dominique Drillot’s lighting design really brought extra nuances to the production. Although this has been described as a good introductory ballet for youngsters, there were very few children at the performance and Prokofiev’s lively music makes sure that it is thoroughly entertaining for adults too.
Tickets can be bought through the Prague National Theatre website. Cinderella will continue to be performed throughout the year, including Jun 6, Sept 9, Sept 16, Oct 6.
Prague National Theatre
110 00 Prague