This month, The Australian Ballet presents a bold take on a familiar classic, when choreographer Alexei Ratmansky takes on Prokofiev’s beloved Cinderella. Ratmansky is a former artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet and current resident of the American Ballet Theatre – his style combines classical and modern techniques in electrifying fashion, and his take on Cinderella is a surrealist visual delight. Senior dancer Amy Harris plays the role of the Evil Step Mother in the production, and as she tells it, dancing with a choreographer of Ratmansky’s calibre is something of a dream come true. “We were all really looking forward to working with him,” she says. “He came in with a very clear vision of what he wanted, and he’s created a wonderful, unique vision of the ballet.”
The Australian Ballet’s Cinderella is a visual feast, with spectacular and surreal costumes and set designs. Getting it all perfect, however, has been quite a challenge. “Alexei’s definitely versed in classical technique, but his movements are also quite full and modern, in the way that they require a lot of upper-body and lower-leg movement,” Harris continues. “For me personally, it’s quite a marathon, doing the movements and getting through all the costume changes that the ballet requires. It’s been full-on, but it’s really rewarding. Cinderella is quite comic and quite light-hearted and we’ve all really lost ourselves in our roles.” Of course, for Harris, the role of Cinderella’s evil step mother comes with its own unique set of challenges.
“I don’t necessarily think of myself as an evil person, but it’s fun to take on a character like that!” she laughs. “She and the step sisters are usually together, and they’re a big part of the story – we’re in it from beginning to end, wearing bright red costumes and elaborate wigs, and generally making life hard for Cinderella. My character is quite terrible to Cinderella and there are few moments in the ballet I find quite hard to do. For instance, my character takes a portrait of Cinderella’s mother, rips it to pieces and kicks it around. That’s a pretty dreadful thing to do, and I’ve found it a challenge to be that evil, but Alexei has given us a lot of freedom to explore our characters, and think about how we want to portray them. He lets us put our own flavours in, I guess – he trusted us to create the ballet alongside him.”
It stands to reason that many people are most familiar with the Disney version of the Cinderella story, and I ask Harris about some of the key differences between this particular take on the tale and the ballet. “The most obvious thing is that we don’t have the carriage or the mice from the Disney version,” she says. “Those things are quite significant parts of the film, but the ballet doesn’t have them. In terms of what Alexei has done, though, he’s linked all the pieces of the story together in incredibly clever ways. Some people may be shocked that the ballet doesn’t have some of those Disney elements, but I personally don’t think anything is missing at all.”
Harris herself has been a Senior Artist with The Australian Ballet for two years now, and working with Ratmansky is just one in a series of recent career highlights. “I was fortunate enough last year to take out the Telstra Ballet Dancer Of The Year Award,” she says, “and this year, I’ll be there when the 2013 winner is announced at the opening night of Cinderella in Sydney. Winning that award was definitely the cherry on top of a great couple of years, and down the line, I’m looking forward to getting my teeth into some great three-act ballets as principal.”
BY ALASDAIR DUNCAN
*Photo: Amy Harris in Cinderella by Jeff Busby.