The music of Giuseppe Verdi--and only Verdi--will soon resound through the Leon M. Goldstein Performing Arts Center as Brighton Ballet Theater (BBT) stages “Cinderella” as part of its 31st Annual World of Dance Festival on the campus of Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, New York. Is it possible that the “King of Opera” wrote for ballet? In a word, no. This ballet, as envisioned and choreographed by BBT’s own Principal Choreographer and Artistic Director Edouard Kouchnarev, was specially set to Verdi’s music and BBT’s performance on June 6, 2018 will be its world premiere.
BBT’s “Cinderella” is the result of a multiyear creative effort by the same man who has previously choreographed and staged such wonderful children’s ballets as “The Nutcracker,” “The Ugly Duckling,” “The Nanny’s Tale,” “The Seasons,” “The Radish,” and others. “I always wanted to bring to life this classic story by Charles Perrault because it is, perhaps, the central of fairytale of all times and peoples and because it has seen thousands of variations in books, plays, films, poetry, and song over the past century, I wanted to add my own” said Kouchnarev.
Cinderellas live in different countries and dream about their princes just as they did in medieval times--but in modern metropolises, thanks to their good hearts and hard work they become princesses, movie stars and even successful business women. Of course, these happy endings are also due in part to Cinderella’s belief in possibilities, in miracles. In the story it is truly necessary for Cinderella not only to believe in miracles, but to make herself worthy of them. Why not introduce this concept of faith and morality to children and youths who are just beginning to learn about the adult world? And here is the main point--this is the gift that Kouchnarev wanted to present, together with the children--his protégés at Brighton Ballet Theater.
This is why the effort to create a children’s “Cinderella” ballet dragged on for years. There is, certainly, the classical ballet “Cinderella” by Sergei Prokofiev, but it is simply too demanding for a children’s company. Remaking Prokofiev’s masterpiece is also unthinkable. Therefore, Kouchnarev respectfully parted ways with Prokofiev and sought new musical material. He wanted something with a clear melody and rhythm, bright and passionate, and above all-- optimistic and accessible to children. He considered everything from Mozart to Strauss, Offenbach to Weber, but in the end these were too well-known and associative to be reimagined as “Cinderella.” And then the idea of Verdi came to him. Although the composer’s melodies from “Rigoletto,” “La Traviata,” “Aida,” and “Othello” are all instantly recognizable, many of Verid’s orchestral works are lesser-known, simply because they were eclipsed by his operas. But this is exactly the bright, melodic and passionate music for which the choreographer searched--and there could be nothing better for the concept of this children’s ballet.
Having found the music, Kouchnarev borrowed the libretto from the pre-War film classic, which was already approved by generations of children and which stars Janina Zheimo and Faina Ranevskaya.
But from here Kouchnarev started adding many of his own unique features. Firstly, for the starring roles, he chose two dancers who, so-to-speak, have grown up at BBT. Sasha, an 11-year-old native of Peru, will dance the part of Cinderella while Logan, a 12-year-old whose parents hail from Spain and China, will dance the part of the Prince.
Despite their young age, the two work well together as artists and look quite professional. Their scenes radiate purity, wholesomeness, and faithfulness to the sincerity of emotion. Kouchnarev entrusted the complex characters of the sisters to slightly more experienced students, Ilana and Daniella, ages 14 and 15 years-old. On stage they portray two spoiled girls whose foolish antics spark condemnation, laughter, and at times, a sympathetic smile from spectators.
In the adult roles, of course, are teachers from BBT. Playing the part of the wicked Stepmother is Ana Lejava, a graduate of the Republic of Georgia’s State Ballet School. From the first to the last scene, she perfectly embodies both femininity and duplicity. In the role of the Fairy Godmother is Anastasia Fedorova, a graduate of the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. She imbues her role with maternal warmth, wrapped in the enchantment of magic. And what is perhaps the greatest sensation--Edouard Kouchnarev permitted himself to take the stage in the role of King. As King he is kind, loving, cheerful, and sensitive to everything beautiful.
The ensemble of main characters is intentionally diverse in age and nationality. But they are joined, as is well advertised on the posters and flyers, by a full troupe--all of Edouard Kouchnarev’s ballet students.
This production is a full-scale, serious work--complete with professional costuming artists, set designers, and light and sound engineers. The entire school, under the direction of Executive Director Irina Roizin, is engaged in an unprecedented quantity of work with rehearsals night after night. Everyone is doing everything possible so that “Cinderella” creates a kind of holiday for young audiences and their parents, and so that this new ballet occupies a distinguished place in the repertoire of BBT for current and future generations of budding artists.
“Cinderella,” in conclusion, is not just about a poor young girl who marries a prince. It is about the fulfillment of a dream. As has been said, it is also a story that has seen a thousand permutations. And one of those permutation is the dream of Edouard Kouchnarev. Good luck to all with the premiere!