Review: Birmingham Royal Ballet in Cinderella at London Coliseum

Performance: 29 Mar - 2 Apr 2011
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Thursday 31 March 2011

Birmingham Royal Ballet 'Cinderella' 29 March - 2 April. London Coliseum. Photo: Elisha Willis as Cinderella. Photographer: Bill Cooper

Reviewed: 29 March

March has been significant for big new ballets in London: the beginning of the month saw the Royal Ballet premiere its first full-length work of the century (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland), closely followed by another new full evening work, opening at Sadler’s Wells, to a new score by the Pet Shop Boys(The Most Incredible Thing). Compared with the glitzy fanfare that celebrated these events, David Bintley’s superb new interpretation of *_Cinderella_*arrived low-key to the Capital on the last week of its nationwide tour, having already featured as a Christmas Day treat on TV. As London usually has first dibs on almost every new ballet shown in the UK, there’s a delicious irony that the best one in ages should come to the metropolis almost as an afterthought. Yet, unlike the earlier world premieres, this vivacious Cinderella from Birmingham came fully accessorised with all the balletic magic of enchantment and awe.

Cinderella was an ideal target for Bintley, the most obvious inheritor of the choreographic style that Sir Frederick Ashton embossed on English ballet. Les Saisons for the Royal Ballet (2004) – created to the music of Glazunov – appears now as Bintley’s trial run for the seasons in Cinderella and his excellent new fairy variations possess the same playful, light, happy qualities of that earlier work. As a dancer, Bintley was often cast as the ‘Ashton’ Ugly Sister in the Royal Ballet’s Cinderella (choreographed by Ashton in 1948 and still frequently performed) but his significant alteration has been to dump the “pantomime dames” preferring instead, ballerinas in dancing roles, playing real, albeit slightly grotesque, sisters. Best of all his innovations is a leit motif for the dancing slippers, which are Cinderella’s secret inheritance from her late Mother. The agonising moment when she hands them over to the Fairy Godmother is profoundly touching.

Under the direction of Koen Kessels, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia wrings every subtle nuance from Prokofiev’s superb score, capturing the darker, gothic corners as well as the avenues of light fairytale romance. Then there are the brilliant designs of John Macfarlane. His daring set for the kitchen in Act 1 utilises only 60% of the stage to emphasise Cinderella’s miserable confinement, sliced with sharp angles to reflect her stark situation. His costumes also define the fairytale as one with a dark side to offset the romantic glitter.

With such excellence in design and music, the work is guaranteed success without a step being danced. But, in those steps we also see the art of a brilliant choreographer – following in a great tradition – and an ensemble of outstanding performers; each dancer careful not to outshine one another and playing their parts in enhancing this spectacular treat. Usually when four men dance a pas de quatre – in any of the world’s leading ballet companies – one’s eye is inevitably drawn to the ragged moments of missed counts and uneven line; from the second the four Prince’s Friends hit their first harmonised entrechats, the unity is striking and sustained throughout the dance. Everyone, from the Frog coachman (Bintley joins Ashton in having choreographed dance for a frog) and Lizard footmen to the fairy seasons and sundry tradesmen play their part in a sumptuous five-star performance of a five-star production.

In the title role, Elisha Willis gives Cinderella a gentle, lyrical softness that remains intact even during her triumphant conquest at the Ball. Iain Mackay doesn’t possess a showy virtuoso technique of big jumps and multiple spins but he exudes authority and security as a very princely Prince. Although no longer creatures of pantomime, much of the comedy rests with the sisters: one a “foodie” called Dumpy (hilariously played by Carol-Anne Millar); the other Skinny, a sad clown with an eating disorder (cleverly portrayed by Gaylene Cummerfield). Towering above all dramatis personae was Marion Tait’s wicked Stepmother: a cocktail of the vile queen from Snow White, the scary housekeeper from Rebecca, Cruella de Ville and Carrabosse; all mixed together in black, with a twist of Vampira.

London’s long-awaited live introduction to the second city’s Cinderella happened at a place adjacent to Whitehall on the eve of Arts Council England’s funding announcements. Although BRB has taken the standard 15% cut in future funding, the company can at least console itself with having heralded this inevitable loss of an artistic limb by a display of excellence that proved that its value far outweighs the cost.

Cinderella continues at the London Coliseum until Saturday **”“:

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Cinderella is newly available on DVD – and we have five copies to give away! **”Enter our competition to win one“:/content.asp?CategoryID=3886

What’s On