Scenaria March 1979 Cinderella

Posted on 25th June 2019 Under Writing

In deciding on the style for the costume and general design for PACT’s new ballet, Cinderella, Alfred Rodrigues (choreographer) and Johan Engels (costume designer) took their cue from Prokofiev’s music. It is often taken for granted that Cinderella should be placed in an eighteenth-century setting, with powdered wigs and paniers and great formality. The music, however, conjures up quite different pictures: at times very real and at others absolutely fantastical.

So Mr. Rodrigues decided to use the Romantic Period (about 1825 to 1840) as a starting point. This was a period of outrageously extravagant hair-styles with high top knots, bows and flowers in the hair and all over the clothing, fully puffed sleeves and wide, ankle-length skirts. As all the ladies attending the Prince’s Ball were obviously vying for his attention, Mr. Engels more or less had carte blanche with extravagant decoration, though he kept to the style of the period. He used miles of satin and velvet ribbon, metres of lace and hundreds of flowers to decorate all the pompous ladies. He introduced, on most of the costumes for the Ballroom Scene, lace patterns blown up to enormous scale. All the patterns had to be carefully drawn on to the fabric, cut out individually and then appliqued to fine net to retain the lace-like quality – an enormous job.

Real hair could not be used for the wigs because it does not have the necessary sheen to it and the wigs have to be eye-catching. So silk thread was imported from England and then dyed pink, orange, yellow or plum as required.
For the fantasy characters – the fairy godmother, the stars and the season fairies – Mr. Engels introduced sparkling, glittering fabrics appliqued in shiny golds and silvers, to contrast with the laciness of the “real” characters. No tutus are used in the production and even Cinderella will be dressed in a costume closer to the period.

A new element in this year’s production will be the Prince’s travels around the world (in a gorgeous galleon) to find the owner of the glass slipper. As he sails the perilous seas to such exotic lands as Spain and the East he meets an enticing red-haired mermaid who of course, has no feet.

What’s more, the mermaid has to dance (!), so the tail had to be constructed in such a way as to give the dancer invisible strings with which to manipulate the complicated structure.

Another problem was the massive, wobbling stomach Mr. Engels had to design for the chief Eunuch who guards the harem girls in the oriental scene. A huge cast of rubber had to be made to achieve this effect.

The Ugly Sisters are, as usual, at the core of the excitement in the story and are a designer’s delight if he is given free reign with characterisation. Mr. Rodrigues decided to use a boy and a girl as the Sisters and so Mr. Engels made very definite characters out of them, costume-wise. He created a very tall, haughty and terribly elegant older sister and a short, stocky and very clumsy younger one. And, of course, there is a great deal of comic opportunity for the designer because the sisters jump in and out of all kinds of outrageous attire all through the ballet, but especially during the preparation for the big night! Period underwear, corsets, wigs and ball gowns fly all over the stage, the climax being their totally extravagant creations for the Prince’s Ball with more ribbons and flowers than all the others put together.

Contrasted with this is the demure Cinderella character, danced by well-known and versatile Margaret Barbieri, who has a tremendous talent for comic ballet. Born in Durban of Italian parents, she is the great-niece of Enrico Cechetti – the great Pavlova’s teacher. Miss Barbieri joined the Royal Ballet in 1968 and has since danced the leading roles in the classics in places as far flung as Germany, France, Iran, Norway and Rhodesia. She comes to South Africa straight from her Covent Garden debut as Juliet.