A Cinderella Story

Larissa Ponomarenko, long a revered principal at Boston Ballet, has been with the company through multiple versions of Cinderella—most recently James Kudelka's in 2005 and 2008. Now, as ballet master, she's guiding dancers through Frederick Ashton's classic rendition, which BB performs through this weekend. Pointe talked to Ponomarenko about the similarities and differences between the fairytale worlds of Kudelka and Ashton, and about dancing and coaching the ballet's title role.

In terms of storytelling, how do the Ashton and Kudelka Cinderellas compare?
Well, the basic story is the same in both—a  joyful, witty, lively girl who has a heart bigger than life lives in this unfortunate house, and then the goodness in her heart brings the fairy godmother, who elevates her out of the situation. I think the biggest difference is the timeframe. Ashton's is set in the 18th century, I think, and Kudelka's is in the 1930s Art Deco period. Ashton also has the sisters played by men, but in Kudelka's version they are ladies and actually beautifully choreographed on pointe.

You danced Cinderella in Kudelka's version. What was most challenging about that role?
For me, it was the fact that his Cinderella starts out dancing in bare feet in the kitchen, and then when she's presented with the crystal shoes, she has to put them on onstage and dance in them immediately! I liked to tape all my toes, and that was a big challenge, to find flesh-colored tape that wouldn't leave any residue on the floor while I was dancing barefoot. I think some ballerinas would pre-set their toe pads inside the shoes—everyone had to come up with little tricks.
 
How about Cinderella's technical challenges in Ashton?
It has at times been difficult for the dancers to adapt to the Ashton style. I believe there are moments when he wanted Cinderella almost to represent a clock, with a leg and an arm as the clock's hands. Today everyone wants the leg up high in arabesque, but to achieve the clock effect the limbs have to be angled and close to the body.

Wendy Ellis Somes set the Ashton version on the company. What advice has she had?
She's very rich in information. She knows exactly when to turn the head, here you go on pointe, here you stay flat. And she conveys the ballet's history, too. She said that Ashton started to choreograph the part of Cinderella on Margot Fonteyn, and then she got injured, so he called in Moira Shearer for the ballroom scene. Wendy pointed out that much of the first act is lyrical and fluid, like Fonteyn, and then the second act is more sharp and edgy, like Shearer.

As a Cinderella veteran, what advice do you have for the dancers taking on the title role?
First, to enjoy the performance! But also to think about overcoming the sadness in the music. Cinderella's musical themes are quite dark—probably because the score was written while Prokofiev was having a very difficult time—but Cinderella is actually joyful and optimistic. You can't succumb to that heaviness in the music, at least not all the time.