Countless adaptations of Cinderella have graced the Russian stage, but the 1992 Maksimova-Vasiliev production provides an interesting structuralist approach. The departures the ballet makes from the Russian tale The Golden Slipper gives Cinderella more agency as a female character. In addition to changes in the basic plot, the characteristics of ballet as a form of storytelling advance the wicked stepmother trope so prominent in Russian fairytales. Between the lack of an animal helper, the costumes, and the choreography, a structuralist approach of Bolshoi’s Cinderella reveals a feminist critique embedded deep in ballet traditions.
The most striking difference in plot is the absence of Cinderella’s fish. The fish swore “’I will be useful to you’” and would complete the tasks her stepmother left her. Instead of outsourcing her labor, Cinderella takes control and solves her problems herself rather than cry to anthropomorphic gift from her father. In the ballet, we seldom see Cinderella complete chores, however, unlike the story, the cruelty of her stepmother and step sisters shines through.
The staccato movements of Cinderella’s family in addition to their costumes emphasize the aggression they feel towards her. In The Golden Slipper, the cruelty towards Cinderella comes from her mother rather than her step mother; the wicked stepmother takes the form of a wicked mother. In the ballet, the stepmother often encircles Cinderella and dances after the prince as if a huntress, and her daughters do the same. The costumes are indicative of the step family’s temperaments in the ballet. When on stage with together, the step sisters’ dresses are short, often knee length, while Cinderella’s nearly reaches her ankles. Longer tutus are reminiscent of a romantic style of ballet that flow gracefully with the music. The shorter the skirt length, the less romantic and soft the characters are perceived through comparison. The only moment of temperamental equality between Cinderella and her sisters in the ballet is at the ball. However, the step sisters are trying to win the prince by hiding their aggressive nature and blending in with the other women present and their costumes quickly become a façade. The aggression between Cinderella and her step family is not in The Golden Slipper, but is a staple of popular adaptations of Cinderella. By going against her stepmother’s wishes and marrying the prince, Cinderella defies a passive female role and takes charge of her story.
The cruelty of the matriarchal household operates as a further denial of a patriarchal society. A significant difference from The Golden Slipper is the absence of her father in the ballet. The initial lack of a patriarchal figure in the household leaves the women in charge of their own affairs. The ballet opens with Cinderella’s mother gifting her a pair of pointe shoes. This scene establishes the importance of women to the ballet through Cinderella growing from a child to a woman and accepting her shoes. Ballet is inherently female focused – Maksimova’s name is even listed first in the title despite Vasiliev becoming the Bolshoi director. Besides the ensemble, the only man of importance is the prince who serves as Cinderella’s love interest. In this respect, their gender roles are switched. Although the prince “saves” Cinderella from her step family, the ballet ends in a beautiful pas de duex wherein Cinderella dances circles around the prince. The power balance between the pair is influenced by amount of stage time each character has to dance in, and Cinderella steals the spotlight.
The structural differences between The Golden Slipper and the 1992 ballet Cinderella give Cinderella more agency as a woman on stage as the lack of an animal helper allows her the opportunity to help herself rather than rely on another. The complexities of the wicked step mother trope is absent in the written tale, yet develops a power struggle in the ballet that Cinderella is ultimately able to conquer. Her fluid choreography and romantic costumes contrast her step family’s aggressive choreography and allow a feminist story of triumph to develop. Ballet’s traditional roots in female led productions compliment Cinderella’s story of social advancement and further develop this feminist plot.