The Australian Ballet is rounding off a memorable year with a much-touted new production of a classical favourite, Cinderella. Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky’s credentials take in both the Bolshoi Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre – and Cinderella shows a happy marriage of these and other influences. Comparisons with Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake are inevitable, but neither ballet suffers as a result. Rather, each shows that this traditional art form can have a new meaning and excitement for 21st century audiences without denying the charm of older ‘chocolate-box’ productions. As for relevance (for those who think it’s an issue): consider that the ‘rags to riches’ story is widely regarded as one of a handful of basic plots – and variations on ‘someday my prince will come’ brings up millions of internet hits. The dream is still out there. Far from taking the magic out of this story, or changing its essential narrative, Ratmansky has re-imagined the details. Prokofiev’s music for this ballet, according to Professor Mark Carroll’s program notes, ‘was intended to touch hearts and lift spirits’. Thanks in large part to a superb performance by Orchestra Victoria, conducted by Nicolette Fraillon, it did this. The music also gave inspiration to the choreographer and designers as they drew on the art of the composer’s lifetime, including (occasionally) the surreal. There was not a mouse or a pumpkin in sight, but there was a recognisable and credible Fairy Godmother (Lynette Wills), bringing with her enchanted representations of the planets, sun and moon. Their dances gave the artists of the Australian Ballet a chance to shine from the first act, with the lighting and screen projections both beguiling and clever. Character was established early and, as expected, the trio of stepmother and daughters were cruel relatives for Cinderella. But that they were more wickedly funny than simply wicked was established in early scenes with the hairdresser and dancing master, and as consistent as their colours (and shocking dress sense!) were to be right to the final Act. Cinderella herself was, of course, the heroine everyone loves – and on the night, Leanne Stojmenov again showed that this prima ballerina has strengths even beyond her faultless dancing. One of the satisfactions of this re-working of an old tale was to see Stojmenov’s many moods: from the despair of being the household drudge whose mother’s memory was desecrated, to the happy girl at the ball and, of course, the loved and loving princess-to-be. The Prince, danced with strength by Daniel Gaudiello, is less of a formed character (again, true to the original), although one had to admire the ease of his many lifts. The ballroom scene, which traditionally allowed the leads to shine, did present some lovely waltzes and a pas de deux, but was hijacked by the stepmother and stepsisters as a number of partners were the targets of their flirtatious dances. The set was another winner in this Act, conventional perhaps, but pretty to look at, and workable, with soft drapes used to effect. The midnight chimes and Cinderella’s hasty exit was spectacularly realised – but it would be a spoiler to give details. It was back to the lighting and visual effects, including a backdrop with killer red heels, to suggest the Prince’s long journey throughout the world to find the owner of the glass slipper. Then all too soon it was the final scene, back in Cinderella’s kitchen, with a final chance for the relatives to sport more crazy costumes and execute another manic dance. But, in defiance of big-production traditional ballets, the ending was simple: an extended pas de deux between Cinderella and her Prince. It was not just beautiful dancing, it was a reminder of the emotional core of this ballet. The triumph of love, the right girl winning the right heart – all celebrated by the look of the performance, the glorious sound and the dancing. Perfect. Rating: 5 stars out of 5 Cinderella (2013) The Australian Ballet Choreography: Alexei Ratmansky Music: Sergei Prokofiev Costume and set design: Jerome Kaplan Lighting design: Rachel Burke Projection design: Wendall K Harrington State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne: with Orchestra Victoria Until 28 September Sydney: with Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra 29 November- 18 December, 2013 Adelaide: July 4-10, 2014 Image: Ingrid Gow and Halaina Hills in Cinderella 2013; photo by Jeff Busby.