Maillot’s version of the familiar story jibes with the basic plotline: young girl loses her beloved mother; father marries a harridan with two disgusting, self-involved daughters; said young girl is forced into menial housework but eventually is freed through the efforts of a Fairy Godmother to go to the ball and meet her Prince Charming who falls for her; Prince loses her at midnight and searches until he finds her and all ends well for the two lovers, but, of course, not for the ugly step-family who get their comeuppance.
Maillot decided, however, to set his version in a distorted fantasy realm, with no identifiable time period or place, distancing the story’s emotional impact. It is difficult to identify with the group of highly stylized, caricatured characters he presents and the tortured, though imaginative, path he takes them on.
Using the well-known Prokofiev score, cut apart, re-ordered and built up with bits from other Prokofiev works (e.g. his Lieutenant Kijé Suite), the storyline is easy to follow although some of the plot digressions, such as an unneeded “Story Within the Story” in which the Fairy (an elegant, if too cool, Mimoza Koike) retells Cinderella’s tale in a mini-version could be excised with no loss of dramatic impact. Some characters seem arbitrarily added to provide parts for company members, such as red and yellow Exotics who waylay the Prince in his search for Cinderella, Pleasure Superintendents who guide Four Mannequins (stand-ins in the story within the story for the main characters) and the Exotics.
The choreography is slick and the storytelling oddly unmoving, but the dancing is smooth and classical in a contemporary, easygoing way. Anjara Ballesteros, a fine dancer, if bland actress, fades a bit into the background when confronted with the masses of colorful characters who abuse her, such as Stepmother (a boisterous Maude Sabourin), her Step Sisters (giddily over-the-top Gaëlle Riou and Anne-Laure Seillan), not to mention the brood the Fairy drags into the plot.
As the put-upon Father, Gabriele Corrado was too young, but acted his woeful storyline well. Lucien Postlewaite was a youthful, callow Prince who preferred to bound about playfully with his friends (Le Wang, Julien Guerin, Melih Mertel and Stefano De Angelis) who goaded him good-naturedly.
The ballet played out in front of a number of curving white panels (designed by Ernest Pignon-Ernest), fluidly moved by the cast to make different stage pictures. One panel was corrugated and tilted to make a much-used staircase upon which the characters raced up and down.
Jérôme Kaplan’s bizarre, body-distorting costumes were a show in themselves, serving mainly to make each character—or group of similar characters—identifiable. Too, often, though, they limited movements, particularly in partnering as they featured asymmetrical bulges, tall wigs and too many ungainly layers.
The Monte Carlo Cinderella is European in the best and worst senses: very much in the long tradition of combining music, choreography, sets and costumes into an artful expression, but also displaying an emphasis on stylization for its own sake that can be wearingly wrong-headed.
Cinderella (February 18-20, 2016)
Les Ballets de Monte Carlo
New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-581-1212 or visit http://www.NyCityCenter.org
Running time: two hours including one intermission