Cinderella: An Abridged History of the Ballet

Cinder 2

We’ve already  talked about the history of the Cinderella fairy tale. If you missed that article, CLICK HERE to give it a read. Let’s take a moment and talk about the history of the ballet. Cinderella is a newer ballet, as ballets go, and there is a good chance that you haven’t seen it. Why, it only premiered 67 years ago! So, when you go to see the ballet this May at the San Diego Civic Theater, why go into it with your eyes shut? Let’s take a look at how this fabulous ballet got its start!

You may or may not know this, but the music for the Cinderella ballet was composed by a man named Sergei Prokofiev. And even if you did know that did you know that he was not the first composer approached to write the score for the ballet? In fact, in 1870 the Bolshoi Ballet approached another famous composer to attack  the fairytale: Peter Tchaikovsky! That’s right, the man who brought us The Nutcracker and Swan Lake was the original choice for the job. Unfortunately, the music never appeared, and the fairytale sat on the back burner of ballet for the next seventy years.

Imagine, if Tchaikovsky had gotten his act together, we might have had a Cinderella that was choreographed by Marius Petipa or Lev Ivanov!

Fast forward to 1940, and a musician named Sergei Prokofiev picks up where Tchaikovsky never even got started. Prokofiev had already begun to make a name for himself in the ballet world. Just five years earlier, he’d completed work on the now famous ballet rendition of Romeo and Juliet. By 1940 the actual ballet had yet to premier, but would do so by the end of the year. Prokofiev’s music for Romeo and Juliet, however, had been heard the world over, and universally loved.

Well, with one exception: the Bolshoi Ballet originally declared his music “undanceable.” Boy, were they wrong!

Sergei Prokofiev

Sergei Prokofiev

So, with the world listening to his music, Prokofiev began his work on the score for Cinderella in 1940. He also stopped work on it that same year. You see, a little conflict had broken out – World War 2 – and Prokofiev, ever the artist, decide to work on another piece that spoke to him at the time: the opera of War and Peace. It didn’t waylay him long, however, and in 1944 Prokofiev began working on Cinderella again, finishing it the following year.


The original ballet premiered in 1945 at the Bolshoi Ballet with choreography by Rostislav Zakharaov. It was quite popular, and in fact was produced again for the Kirov the following year. The ballet’s story was based on the Perrault version of the fairytale (not the Brother’s Grimm) which we are all quite familiar with thanks to a certain Mouse. A few things were added in order to make the story work better as a ballet. The four seasons are represented in the ballet as fairies, but never appear that way in the Perrault story. The Fairy Godmother first appears as a poor beggar in order to test Cinderella’s kindness. This also never happened in the original fairy tale. And, for obvious reasons, the glass slippers are replaced with pointe shoes.

Well, it is classical ballet, what did you expect?

The original production was, as admitted by Prokofiev himself, an homage Peter Tchaikovsky. In fact, the score was dedicated to Tchaikovsky by the composer himself! (Prokofiev idolized the great composer.)

In time, many other companies and choreographers would try their hand at new versions of the ballet, but Prokofiev’s score would remain unchanged. One of the most notable renditions is that done by the English mastermind Frederick Ashton. His production was the first in the West to use Prokofiev’s score, and it certainly pleased audiences. Ashton himself appeared onstage as one of the Stepsisters – a performance that many consider unmatched to this day.

Frederick Ashton

Sir Frederick Ashton


In less than one month, California Ballet Company will perform Cinderella at the San Diego Civic Theatre. Our choreography is by the incredibly talented Toni Pimble of Oregon’s Eugene Ballet. Her iteration of the ballet is in turns comical, tender, heart wrenching, and always enchanting. Her technical sensibilities and impeccable musicality blend to create a masterful melange of dance and acting that showcase California Ballet’s dancers in ways that you might not have previously seen them. Ballerina Chie Kudo is stepping into Cindy’s shoes for the first time, giving us all a chance to relish in her ability as an actor while being entranced by her technical prowess. Soloist Oscar Burciaga is putting on a skirt to reprise his role as a stepsister – and he makes a lovely lady! Corps de ballet dancers Miki Batchman and Joseph Shumate step out into the spotlight to fill in the rest of the stepfamily – and with Toni Pimble’s comedic flair, everyone is in for some hilarious belly laughs, balanced by our heartstrings being pulled as we watch Kudo’s Cinderella suffer under their tyrannous fists. Of course, Cinderella would not be complete without her prince, danced for us by International Guest Artist Vadim Solomakha. His flair as a performer, and ability to capture the audience’s heart, will blend with Ms. Pimble’s choreography to make a performance you cannot miss!

As the years progress, Prokofiev’s score sees more and more interpretations by more and more companies. Yet, this is still a less-known ballet when help up against the likes of The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and Coppelia. Don’t miss your chance to see this enchanting fairytale in all its balletic glory this May 5th and 6th at the San Diego Civic Theatre!

Cinderella Performances Mag ad 1California Ballet Presents:

Toni Pimble’s Cinderella

At the San Diego Civic Theatre

May 5, 2012 at 7:00pm

May 6, 2012 at 1:00pm

For tickets and information CLICK HERE



Information in this blog credited to California Ballet Company’s Teacher’s Sourcebook, Wikipedia,,, and the University of California, Irvine Department of Dance curriculum.


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