Again, Swan Lake didn't pose these kind of obstacles, because it had a ready-made narrative structure that could be tweaked merely by changing the costuming. Giving that production a 1950s look and tossing in a few references to the Windsors was a relatively easy thing to pull off. But Bourne's World War II concept is so radical that even he would have had a difficult time fitting his swans into RAF uniforms and selling it to the audience had Swan Lake been set in the same time period.
Naturally, in a wordless ballet everything must be left unsaid, and the audience is forced to connect many of the narrative dots. A key moment of this child's tale -- left out of Bourne's version -- comes when the prince goes about the kingdom trying to find the owner of the glass slipper; when he arrives at Cinderella's home, the two stepsisters mutilate their own feet in an attempt to fit themselves into the slipper -- tricks that work, temporarily, until those damned doves rat them out. Without this scene, Bourne's updated fairy tale is ultimately hamstrung, in that it can never be faithful to the original. There can be no such surgical drama in Bourne's story, where the Pilot has no importance to the rest of Cinderella's family. And then again, there is the matter of justice. Bruno Bettelheim pointed out how unsatisfactory Charles Perrault's version of Cinderella is, since no one is punished and, in fact, the wicked stepsisters are rewarded by Cinderella, who marries them off to lords of the court. In tone and imagery, Bourne's Cinderella is more comfortable with Perrault than the Grimms, which only proves, perhaps, that even the cruelty of the 20th century is no match for the fairy tales on which we were raised.
CINDERELLA | Music by SERGEI PROKOFIEV | Directed and choreographed by MATTHEW BOURNE | At the AHMANSON THEATER, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown | Through May 23
The 20th Annual L.A. Weekly Theater Awards, April 19, is sold out. To get on a waiting list, call (323) 993-3693.