Dancers perform the ballet Cendrillon
Credit: Alice Blangero

The original Cinderella story is much older—and, in some cases, quite darker—than the Disney-fied versions. The tale can actually be traced back to ancient Greek oral tradition, with versions later appearing in Malta, France, China, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Pieces of the story can be found as well in One Thousand and One Nights, often known in English as Arabian Nights. In 1697, French author Charles Perrault wrote one of the most popular variations in the European canon, adding the fairy godmother, the glass slippers, and the pumpkin carriage. His story ends happily; the other popular European version, Aschenputtel (The Little Ash Girl) by the Brothers Grimm, does not. In it, Cinderella’s father has not died and actually participates in enslaving his daughter. The slippers aren’t glass but gold, and the stepsisters mutilate their own feet in their desperation for the shoes to fit. Disney removes the violence and preserves Perrault’s magical, funny touches. Most of the Cinderella stories have a few things in common, though: special slippers, magical support, and a princess locked away and forced to work in ash and cinders. Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo’s Cendrillon is the rare retelling today that doesn’t. In this rendition, choreographed and directed by Jean-Christophe Maillot, the curtains rise on Cinderella clutching a dress that belonged to her deceased mother, a picture of grief that gets but a few seconds in the Disney movie. This thread continues in the benevolent fairy who evokes Cinderella’s own mother, instead of a generic grandmother. The stepmother and stepsisters are no longer sour or ugly but charming, willful, and powerful. They’re still intent on undermining Cinderella, but not because they’re jealous of Cinderella’s beauty specifically; they have an allure of their own in Maillot’s version. The glass slippers may be gone, but the sparkle is not. Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo’s Cendrillon runs Nov. 17 through 20 at the Kennedy Center. $39-129.

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