Writer / Composer: Charles Perrault / Sergei Prokofiev
Director / Choreographer: David Bintley
Reviewer: Helen Tope
Cinderella is the fairytale we think we know, perhaps a little too well. In this staging of the ballet, choreographer David Bintley attempts to break away from the overtly-classical staging of recent productions, instead returning the story to its roots.
The problem with a classic is how to retell it, but it’s a challenge this production meets head-on. Bintley’s choreography isn’t afraid to capture the shadows as well as the sparkle.
So necessary for a good fairytale, the story of Cinderella has its dark side (and that’s even before the Brothers Grimm got their hands on it). Exploiting that not only makes the material richer, it shifts the audience out of auto-pilot, ensuring that the ballet has our full attention. The colour palette used by designer John Macfarlane, moves from mourning black, to regal purples and reds, to the purity of a simple white gown. This Cinderella returns to Perrault’s original: a tale not so much for children, but a story of a young woman finding her voice and asserting her independence.
The fun, however, is not forgotten. The scene where the Ugly Sisters, Skinny and Dumpy, are prepped for the Ball is rife with comic moments, and Skinny (Samara Downs) and Dumpy (Laura Purkiss) milk it for all its worth. Bintley’s choreography for these characters (which often ends in sisterly scrapping) is modern, spiky and wickedly funny.
The ease and fluidity of Jenna Roberts as Cinderella acts as a neat counterbalance to their antics, with Roberts tapping into a melancholy that feels entirely authentic. Roberts understands that we can’t root for Cinderella, if we don’t feel for her.
The set design by John Macfarlane riffs on the sharp contrasts in Cinderella between an all-too-recognisable reality and glorious fantasy. Cinderella’s transformation at the hands of The Fairy Godmother takes place against a star-filled backdrop; simple, elegant and ethereal. He makes use of this motif over and over again; painted, rolling skies and transparent gossamer-light panels. The design creates a timeless feel to the action – perfect for a story where so much hinges on the ticking of a clock.
This is a ballet that works hard to step away from the Frederick Ashton template. However, it wisely avoids grafting too much newness on in one go. There’s enough classical elements to please the purists. The leading man’s athletic daring remains, the costumes are superb. By not removing all of the familiar, it makes the audience’s job of grasping Bintley’s bold, angular language with its flamenco rhythms, much easier.
For all its innovation, this production’s pace does sometimes risk losing the characterisation of its key players. The Prince (an excellent William Bracewell) needs more of an introduction before he meets his girl. Cinderella demands depth, and this production is nearly there, but not quite. Technically, Bintley’s choreography and Prokofiev’s music are a perfect match; the staccato movements emphasise the jagged edges of Prokofiev’s score. But on an emotional level, Prokofiev remains ahead of the dance.
This production has a great deal to recommend it; the pairing of Samara Downs and Laura Purkiss is inspired and worth the ticket price alone. But at the core of Cinderella is a story of someone yearning for a better life; it is a theme both classic and contemporary and one that is ripe with possibilities. Whatever comes next, Bintley’s interpretation is a step in the right direction.
Runs until 11 March 2017 | Image: Bill Cooper