Rudolf Nureyev's ``Cinderella,'' which his Paris Opera Ballet gave for a week at the Metropolitan Opera House, is too busy by far. In every scene there seem to be at least two sets of characters enacting simultaneous scenarios. Some of them come from the Cinderella story we all know, at times appearing in inexplicable disguises. Some belong to Nureyev's updated Hollywood-in-the-'30s story. (It looks more like the 1920s, but never mind.) And some are just miscellaneous extras, like the 20 nymphs and satyrs who might have strayed in from Jerome Robbins's ``The Four Seasons'' but who, the program says, are giving a fashion show.
``Cinderella'' is not just another ostentatious reworking of a standard ballet. Composed by Prokofiev in 1945, it never had a definitive, classic version. In Nureyev's hands it becomes a ``think ballet,'' psychological and cinematic. Nureyev sees '30s Hollywood as an escapist fantasy, easing the lot of Depression-battered Americans, and Cinderella's midnight re-transformation from movie queen to downtrodden waif as a metaphor to explain the Sybaritic life of movie stars.
Nureyev's plot sounds fairly interesting on paper, but in staging it he has a peculiar gift for undermining his own ideas. Everything in the ballet is overplayed. A whole assortment of farcical movieland stereotypes is present, in addition to the fairy tale's grotesques.
Cinderella's stepsisters (Isabelle Gu'erin and Clotilde Vayer) stumble about and screw up their faces. Her stepmother (Georges Piletta in drag) has the shoulders of a football player, and frequently knocks people to the ground when she isn't furiously spinning on pointe.
The movie types include a fat director and his assistant, a dance instructor, and various camera crankers and scene-setters, all of whom spend their time striding back and forth and gesturing in two-handed consternation. The producer (Nureyev) enters in a Groucho Marx disguise, and after a pallid Groucho imitation, he discards nose and moustache and spends the rest of the ballet chomping the Marxian cigar and gesturing in one-handed benevolence. See, he's also the Fairy Godmother, who discovers Cinderella and offers her a contract.
The most spectacular aspects of this production are the sets, designed by Petrika Ionesco. Like the action, the environment is eclectic, often without explanation. Amongst all this hullabaloo, the dancing doesn't show up very well. There's quite a lot of it, actually, but it has problems of scale, of pacing, of emphasis. Nureyev can't seem to estimate how to make his choreographic effects fully. Often he chooses to activate several small groups so that they interrupt one another, overlap, or just plain blur each other out. The ends of ensembles and solos often run into what follows, so the audience doesn't have time to assimilate what it has seen.
The men's ensemble has some striking sequences in the last act as they leap back and forth across the stage in search of the owner of the plastic high-heeled slipper. They're led by Laurent Hilaire, the prince who's now a movie actor. Hilaire is a fabulous high-jumper with the speed to carry off Nureyev's nonstop choreography.
The Cinderella, Elizabeth Platel, is a lyrical dancer with a lovely, soft line and an especially poignant way of making slow and expansive leg gestures. Most of her solos are expressive rather than purely virtuosic. By that I mean Nureyev uses classical steps conversationally, to show the rising and falling of emotions - hesitancy and longing, expectation and despair - rather than formally so as to show only the steps. In these solos, and similar pas de deux with Hilaire, Platel dances beautifully, but she doesn't particularly act the role. Under the circumstances, it seems the wisest course.