Music: Sergei Prokofiev
Choreographer: David Bintley
Reviewer: Laura Jayne Bateman
Premiering in 2010, and featuring recently retired star principal Elisha Willis in the title role, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Cinderella takes inspiration from Charles Perrault’s 1697 fairy tale. Choreographed by company director David Bintley to Sergei Prokofiev’s score, the production enchantingly combines the grit of Cinderella’s abusive home life with the magic of her royal romance.
The ballet opens with the funeral of Cinderella’s mother, who leaves behind a heart-broken husbandand a grieving daughter. A scheming widow and her two daughters spot the possibility of a wealthy match, and when we meet Cinderella again, her father is also dead and she is forced to work as a servant for her step-family. Desperately unhappy, she is visited by a Fairy Godmother, who transforms her ragged clothes into a sumptuous gown so she might attend the Prince’s ball, but warns her that the charm will only last until the clock strikes midnight. At the ball, Cinderella wins the Prince’s heart but conceals her true identity, though when she abandons him at midnight, she leaves behind a slipper. The Prince vows to find her, and they are reunited at the ballet’s close.
The most revered ballet of Cinderella to date is Frederick Ashton’s 1948 version for The Royal Ballet. In Ashton’s version, the step-sisters are played by male dancers in drag, and the vaudevillian comedy of the piece takes precedent over the darkness of Cinderella’s plight. Bintley redresses this imbalance: the production is exquisitely plotted, well-paced, and the ballet’s central theme of love as an antidote to misery is clearly expressed in Bintley’s choreography. The lovers dance hesitantly around each other upon first meeting, never quite touching, but the moment Cinderella takes the Prince’s hand, the movement and the music swell to create a sense of completeness.
Momoko Hirata is luminous in the title role. There is a resignation to her Cinderella, dancing barefoot in the kitchen, which renders the arrival of Yvette Knight’s stately Fairy Godmother all the more welcome; While she is provided with new clothes, she is also provided with hope, and the clarity with which Hirata portrays this transformation is as excellent as her delicate, elegant pointe work in the Act II pas de deux. Joseph Caley is a charmingly boyish Prince, exuding joy in his leaps and turns, and William Bracewell stands out Among the Prince’s Friends for his energy and precision. Samara Downs as stepsister Skinny and Laura Purkiss as a decidedly un-dumpy Dumpy are choreographically well-sketched and danced with excellent comic skill. Among the Four Seasons, Céline Gittens as Summer particularly impresses with her elegant lines and meticulous footwork.
John F. Macfarlane’s exquisite designs contrast the drab greys and browns of Cinderella’s servitude with the glittering blacks and silvers of the royal court. David A. Finn’s lighting conveys the wonder and mystery of her world, While Prokofiev’s moving, bittersweet score is played hauntingly by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia.
While Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Cinderella may seem old-fashioned in its classicism, the sophistication of the production is found in the clarity of its storytelling and its stylistic consistency. The dancers execute Bintley’s choreography with confidence, and the spectacle of the production renders it an enchanting retelling of a well-loved story.
Runs until 25 February 2017 and on tour | Image: Bill Cooper