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Cinderella - Nureyev's Coreography


A dazzling rise to fame in true American style: A star is born!

Rudolf Nureyev, aided and abetted by set designer, Petrika Ionesco, had a lot of fun adapting the story of Cinderella to the world of Hollywood in the 1930s: discovered by a film producer, the modest young girl, escaping from an alcoholic father and a wicked stepmother, makes her film debut, capturing the heart of the leading actor on the way.

The dancers, beginning with Nureyev himself, had more or less followed the same path as this modern-day Cinderella, making this “engineering of a ballet within a ballet” a tremendous declaration of love for the cinema and the theatre; none but they are capable of transfiguring individuals, and the dance, and in particular, of managing to sublimate the ordinary.

Enriching it with Freudian connotations, Nureyev always altered the course of the story in his own ballets, and even in those whose subject and choreography he borrowed from Petipa, handed down as they were in true Kirov tradition. And so, in Cinderella we find several of his favourite themes: the desire to escape from the harsh realities of life, the initiatory dream, the real world that merges with an imaginary one, the art as fulfilment of the dream become reality.


“When Petrika Ionesco first suggested the idea of a Hollywood Cinderella to me, I was not very keen: I was afraid that Perrault’s fairy story would be changed out of all recognition. Should I be sorry that this suggestion slid itself insidiously into my head, so that I couldn’t get rid of it? I eventually said yes, and went straight to work on the choreography with this idea in mind.

The era is that of the 1930s and 1940s. This was a time in the life of Prokofiev, where back in his country, the URSS, he was experiencing a secret nostalgia for the West. Cinderella is not very Russian. It is even the most westernized thing that he produced. Not only the music sets the style, but the dances do not embody the context. It is this disembodiment that we wanted to convey, by adapting the fairy story to the film world.

The mechanics of the story have not changed, however, in this version. We still find the two ludicrous but cruel sisters, the awful stepmother, the father torn between his new wife and this young girl, Cinderella, his daughter who, as he knows only too well, is ill-treated and has to take refuge in the dream of a life which is forbidden to her in order to survive.

All the drama in Cinderella comes from the march of time, the fear of seeing her dream collapse, her happiness flee with her youth. This is why she escapes at the time when she is transformed by love. As for myself, I imagine eternal life to be a supreme luxury!

The ballet Cinderella has become a cinematic dream. A dream of a white dress, slightly tinged with pink to pay tribute to innocence, and a touch of glitter because Cinderella is a character from today’s world, she only dreams of one thing: of becoming a star. So, in my version of Cinderella, the good fairy is transformed into a film producer, the only person in modern-day mythology capable, through the magic of his art, of transforming a pumpkin into the coachwork of a car.” Rudolf Nureyev – 1986


If we look back through dance history, the character of Cinderella does not appear to have caught the attention of the choreographers very often in the years preceding Prokofiev’s musical composition (1945).

It goes without saying that Marius Petipa, working together with Enrico Cecchetti and Lev Ivanov, had already choreographed a Cinderella. Created in 1893, it was in this ballet that Pierina Legnani, an Italian ballet dancer who had just been taken on at the Marie or Maryinski Theatre, was to introduce a series of thirty-two fouettés which would amaze audiences.

Cinderella was also to found in Berlin, in 1901, performed to a composition by Johann Strauss-fils. And Mikhaïl Fokine put his version of Cinderella on in London in 1938; it was performed by the Russian Ballet under Colonel de Basil.

But it was with Prokofiev’s music that Cinderella, just like Odette/Odile, Aurora or Juliet, became one of the important figures in ballet heritage, to the point where today’s choreographers interpret the fairy story in their own way, “re-reading” the fable under new lighting.


Following the success of Romeo and Juliet, its creator, Galina Oulanova, asked the composer to write her another ballet. Consequently, Prokofiev began composing Cinderella.

Interrupted on more than on occasion due to the war, the score was not completed until 1944.

“The music has three basic themes (leitmotivs) characterizing Cinderella: the first describes her as bullied and ill-treated; the second as chaste, pure and thoughtful; the third, a wide-ranging theme, as being in love and glowing with happiness.
I tried to paint the different characters: Cinderella gentle and dreamy, the father fearful, the stepmother quick-tempered, the sisters selfish, the young prince full of passion, in such a way that the spectators can but share their joy and their sorrow.”
Sergueï Prokofiev


Music : Serguei Prokoviev

Choreography : Rudolf Nureyev

Costumes : Petrika Ionesco

Learn more Prokofiev, seriously ill (he had a bad fall which led to concussion of the brain) was unable to take part in any of the rehearsals for Cinderella. His state of health went from bad to worse, and the composer (who would write another sonata for piano and cello dedicated to Richter and Rostropovitch, as well as his seventh and last ballet, “The Tale of the Stone Flower”) died at the age of 62 on the 5th March 1953, the same day as Stalin! Cinderella was not performed at the Paris Opera up until the time when Rudolf Nureyev staged the ballet to Prokofiev’s music (1945). Nureyev’s creation (at the Palais Garnier on the 25th October 1986) was not inspired by any previous choreography, and although it adapted the fairy story, it remained faithful to the score arrangement and the composer’s intentions.