Ratmansky’s Cinderella tops the bill for the Australian Ballet in 2013

The big catch of 2013 for the Australian Ballet is one of the world’s most acclaimed choreographers, Alexei Ratmansky. His new Cinderella choreographed for the company will premiere in Melbourne on September 17 and open in Sydney in late November.

The work is set to be the highlight of next year’s season, announced today in Melbourne by the company’s artistic director, David McAllister.

The sets and costumes will be designed by the Frenchman, Jérôme Kaplan who worked with Ratmansky for his 2010 production of Don Quixote for the Dutch National Ballet, and for his 2011 production of Lost Illusions for the Bolshoi Ballet.

The two men are Cinderella veterans. Kaplan designed a Cinderella for the Ballets de Monte Carlo in 1998 while Ratmansky, in his early years as a choreographer, created a Cinderella in 2002 for the Mariinsky Ballet.

The fascinating aspect of the new work in Australia may well be the links between its setting – Russia in the early 1930s – and its design, which is said to bring layers of Surrealism to the ballet.

At first glance, the Soviet era in the Stalin years does not seem compatible with the revolutionary movement of Surrealism, and yet strange juxtapositions and apparent conflicts are evident everywhere in Cinderella, not least in its score by Prokofiev.

He composed the work at a time of major political and personal upheaval, commencing in 1940 and finishing in 1944. Four years later, Prokofiev was named as one of several blacklisted Russian composers, charged with writing music that was “alien to the Soviet people and its artistic taste”. (Prokofiev died on the same day as Stalin in 1953.)

The Cinderella score is, at times, melancholy, with its “sombre notes of warning… detectable behind the yearning lyricism of the foreground”, in the words of the critic, Luke Jennings.

The choreographer, David Bintley, described it as a “remarkable score because while it’s built around the framework of the 19th-century ballets, with the requisite waltzes and variations, there’s an additional complexity to even the simplest looking solos.

“In addition, it’s a score of huge extremes. While most of the Tchaikovsky scores encompass a single idea – grandeur for Sleeping Beauty, doom and foreboding for Swan Lake – Cinderella has this extraordinary range of emotion. It has everything from heart-stopping pathos to really quite crude, almost Soviet humour. And at the root of everything there’s always a little kick that knocks it off-kilter”.

The first production of Cinderella at the Bolshoi in Moscow in 1945 was followed three years later by Frederick Ashton’s very well known production that, in turn, entered the Australian Ballet’s repertoire in 1972 but has not been presented in Australia since 1980. The most recent Cinderella in the company’s rep is Stanton Welch’s interpretation of 1997.

Ratmansky’s Cinderella is the second of two full evening ballets for the AB’s 2013 year with the first being Nureyev’s Don Quixote, a production that has a long history with the company. Don Q’s Melbourne season in March and Sydney season in April will closely follow worldwide tributes staged to mark the 20th anniversary of Nureyev’s death (in January 1993.)

Don Q will be followed by a triple bill comprising Balanchine’s Four Temperaments, Jirí Kylián’s Bella Figura and Wayne McGregor’s Dyad 1929.

The Four Ts, as it is known, entered the AB’s rep under the artistic directorship of Maina Gielgud in 1985 and was last staged by the company in 2003.

As described by Balanchine’s biographer, Bernard Taper, The Four Temperaments, choreographed in 1946 to a Hindemith score, “had the radiance achieved by a work of art that made a definitive statement. It seemed to manifest a force that was new to ballet, a kind of ruthlessness – even in its degree of concentration and in its impersonality – that projected a meaningful attitude to life in the mid twentieth century…

“At the end, where there are those great soaring lifts, I always feel as if I am watching some momentous departure – like interplanetary travellers taking their leave of the world”.

The second mixed bill, in Sydney in Melbourne in August/September and in Sydney in November, comprises La Sylphide and Paquita, the latter, with costumes by Hugh Colman. Both came into the company’s rep in the Gielgud years.

Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake will be presented in Melbourne only, in June, while Bodytorque, showcasing works choreographed by dancers of the Australian Ballet, will return to Sydney in October.

Canberra’s centenary will be celebrated by the company in May with a double bill of Harald Lander’s Etudes and a new work, Monument, by Garry Stewart, while Stephen Baynes’s new Swan Lake, to premiere later this month in Melbourne, will tour to Brisbane (February/March) and Adelaide (July).

The AB’s second company, the Dancers Company will tour regional New South Wales, the Northern Territory, South Australia and Victoria with Paquita, Swan Lake Act III and a new work by Simon Dow.

In the media release for the 2013 launch, McAllister talks of his “vision for the company over the next five years”. His contract was extended in 2010 to 2014, but with the mention of a “five year” plan, it looks as though the contract may be extended next year beyond 2014.

Among his long term initiatives are “a Children’s Ballet”, a new ballet film featuring the company’s dancers, and a ballet filmed in 3D.

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Jérôme Kaplan's costumes for Tornerose, choreographed in 2010 for the Royal Danish Ballet by Christopher Wheeldon

Jérôme Kaplan’s costumes for Tornerose, choreographed in 2010 for the Royal Danish Ballet by Christopher Wheeldon

Vanessa Zahorian and Joan Boada in Balanchine's The Four Temperaments, Photo © Erik Tomasson

Vanessa Zahorian and Joan Boada in Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments, Photo © Erik Tomasson

Alexei Ratmansky,  photo,  © MIRA / ABT

Alexei Ratmansky, photo, © MIRA / ABT

Felicia Palanca and Sarah Peace in Bella Figura, photo © Jeff Busby

Felicia Palanca and Sarah Peace in Bella Figura, photo © Jeff Busby