Music: Sergei Prokofiev
Choreographer: David Bintley
Conductor: Philip Ellis
Reviewer: Jo Beggs
Birmingham Royal Ballet are a company unafraid to embrace the traditional. While all around them everyone’s trying to sex-up the classics, BRB know that producing something with no surprises can still be an audience winner. Cinderella certainly sends nobody home dissatisfied, and yet there’s a sense that the spark has gone out of this 2010 production. It’s difficult not to create something of a pantomime out of this classic fairy-tale – Cinderella’s step-mother (Marion Tait) is suitable pinched and starchy, Skinny and Dumpy (the ugly sisters) provide much comic foolery. Samara Downs (Skinny) is spiky and sarcastic, and Laura Purkiss (Dumpy) demonstrates some solid slapstick skills, but the comedy often sits at odds with the choreography.
In three acts, with two twenty-minute intervals, Cinderella drags into an overlong evening. The production loses momentum at times, not helped by the fragmented nature of the first act, which feels like a series of short dances. The audience half-heartedly applaud at the end of each but are unsure if they should be doing so. It feels like the evening is slow to get going.
The second act improves things enormously with a good dose of the gothic. The ball has an almost sinister undertone with its muted colours, cold light and the often menacing urgency of the music. Here, Cinderella (Jenna Roberts) and the Prince (William Bracewell), traditionally clad in brilliant white, are the only light in a cold world. Roberts and Bracewell create some real magic in their scenes together. The gentle, lyrical choreography delivers exactly what the audience is here for, and does it beautifully. Roberts has extraordinary poise and grace.
John F Macfarlane’s set is often over-indulgent and sometimes clunky. At times the scale dwarfs the dancers – the blocky, over-furnished basement kitchen where Cinderella dreams of escape, the huge mirror in act one, and the giant clock mechanism ticking away the seconds to midnight in act two. Even the iconic silver carriage is awkwardly assembled, and yet underused. It all seems to get in the way rather than adding to the experience. What really works is when the stage is stripped back to reveal gorgeously lit, painterly back-drops – a star-strewn night sky, a golden sunrise and watercolour greenery that looks like a children’s book illustration. These are easy on the eye, uncomplicated, and completely complement the action.
These backdrops also create a brilliant setting for Macfarlane’s sumptuous costumes. The frog, lizard and mouse heads (remember they get a night out too thanks to the Fairy Godmother) are comic but beautifully rendered. The Prince wears a heavy coat that creates its own swirling choreography as he dances. The silver tutus of the company shimmer, creating a magical glow under David A Finn’s rich lighting designs.
There is much to like here, but the expected magic is somewhat lost among all the clutter. Hauling this set around in trucks is a huge and complicated job. If they left more of it at home and allowed us to focus on the dancers, it might be easier to appreciate the amazing job they’re doing.
Runs until 4 March 2017 | Image: Contributed