Choreographers: Rachel Hester and Jenny Murphy
Reviewer: John Kennedy
In this enticing and judiciously nipped ‘n’ tucked adaptation of David Bintley’s acclaimed Cinderella, Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB) promises that ‘Everyone goes to the Ball’. That includes the swan-svelte, seventy-six years young Ilona Johnson-Gibbs featuring as The Fairy Godmother fulfilling a lifetime ambition.
After exhaustive auditions, sixty-six students were cast to work with BRB dancers Jenny Murphy and Rachel Hester. Tonight’s once only corps de ballet plays over one hundred rôles – alongside BRB First Artists, Karla Doorbar as Cinderella, with Lachlan Monaghan taking on The Prince. Their Palace Ball pas de deux and star-drenched finale are spellbinding. Innovative parallel casting sees twelve-year-old Pamela Hawkins take the role of Cinderella in her ever-suffering scullery conflict with the very ugly (on the inside) sisters, Maddy Abraham and Alicia Bennett. They are a brace of malevolent minxes, poisonously poised, vain as narcissists in a hall of mirrors. Contrarily meanwhile, Hawkins’ fantasy kitchen sink pas de deux with her companionable broom is natural, witty and charming.
Set Designer John Macfarlane’s visionary daring makes its immediate mark with the front drop curtain. A moon and star-dusted enormous clock face is frozen at 9.21 – much will happen before and after midnight. Other set pieces are too numerous to mention but perhaps the climax of Cinderella’s reveal to The Prince stands out. The cavernous kitchen momentarily falls into shade then ‘natural’ light pours through the high window casement – a moment framed in an exquisite Dutch master composition. Lighting Director Johnny Westall-Eyre shows his craftsmanship. Costumier Helen Frownes-Davies has a creative Ball herself, with Stars/Snowflakes/Tiny Stars/Frogs/Mice and all manner of celestial tutus and glittering gowns. Frownes-Davies has a shrewd eye for proportion – and then thrives on getting out of it. It is as near to aesthetic visual gluttony as is forgivable.
Midnight tolls, from either stage wings two halves of monstrous clockwork parts clash together. The once dazzling Cinderella flies condemned again to her tatty scullery rags. At tether’s end, The Prince is reduced to allowing both the ugly sisters and their stepmother, played with assured, sneering relish by Kathryn Sharratt, to try on the slipper. A deal of comedic giddiness precedes this scene as fishwife, floozy, chancer and two-left feet dancers all queue up and take a punt. As this is the only performance a spoiler alert seems superfluous – Cinders’ feet slide slimly into the silver slipper and all live happily ever after. Choreography directors, Rachel Hester and Jenny Murphy have been credited as must be Project Manager, Rebecca Brookes. This highly ambitious project is a stunning and promising showcase for so young an ensemble of Midland talent and dedication.
And tonight’s unique, star-spangled spectacular certainly belongs to them. A celebration of application, fluidity and symmetry and further, for whom the universal truths of the Cinderella tale are ever apposite. That patience, self-belief and utter faith in following that dream might one day bring magical transition and transformation. From the youngest Mini-star/Snowflake, to Pamela Hawkins on the cusp of her teenage years, to the apogee of a performing dancer’s achievement – First Artist/Principal. Wonderful and inspiring.
Reviewed on 20 February 2017 | Image: Paul Telfer