Music: Sergei Prokofiev
Choreography: Christopher Hampson CBE
Conductor: Martin Yates
Prokofiev’s Cinderella is a standard in the repertoire of ballet companies around the world. Frederick Ashton’s 1948 setting has been seen as recently as 2023 in the Royal Ballet’s new production. Hampson’s reinvention sets out to give a new twist to the tale but, though it definitely has its own character, it doesn’t stray so far as to distress most fans of the original.
That said, there is an additional nuance not seen at this performance. The audience will not know until curtain up whether the title character will be played by a male or female dancer. However, unlike Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, the central romance is not a same sex one. Whilst the female Cinders is partnered with Prince Louis, the male Cinders has Princess Louise.
It would be interesting to have seen the male Cinders version, perhaps allowing for more vulnerability and insecurity than a lead male dancer commonly has the opportunity to express. Keen ballet-goers might be tempted to go twice to see both versions. This performance, however, featured a flame-haired and vibrant Gina Scott as the eponymous heroine with Jerome Anthony Barnes as her Prince.
The setting is moved from a castle to a well-loved drapery emporium, Rose and Company, owned by Cinders’ loving parents. An accidental fire tragically kills her parents leaving the child heroine to be found miraculously unhurt amongst the cinders, hence her name.
Ten years later, an American millionairess, Mrs Thorne, takes over the shop and arrives with her two clumsy daughters and her absurdly foppish son. From there, the plot adheres pretty closely to Perrault’s original fairy tale, with the addition of a gay romance for the son with one of the Prince’s attendants and with the sprits of Cinders’ parents providing her with magical assistance, rather than a Fairy Godmother.
Prokofiev’s original score, with the addition of sections from his Summer Night, was persuasively conveyed by the splendid Scottish Ballet Orchestra in the capable and expressive hands of Martin Yates, bringing out the full value of the lyrical and romantic sections as well as the comedic elements that are so important to the piece.
Elin Steele’s set and costume design were a delight. With the usual scale and splendour one expects from ballet sets, Steele brought an almost sepia-tinted suggestion of faded grandeur, that seemed to reflect the music. The costumes effectively gave us both the exaggerated comic elements of the Thorne family ( particularly the son) and the glorious romanticism of the principal duo set against the more muted finery of the court ensemble.
As to the performances, Scott delivered a lyrical, yearning Cinders, without ever making her coy or insipid. Barnes’ Prince was a splendid marriage of grace and athleticism, coupled with matinee idol looks and boundless charisma. Aisling Branagan was a harsh, commanding Mrs Thorne while Grace Horler’s Morag and Alice Kawalek’s Flossie showed humour and deceptive technical skill in demonstrating their characters’ clumsiness. The choreography and the expertise of their solos and that of their wonderfully outrageous brother, Thomas Edwards’ Tarquin, were real highlights. Madeline Squire and Benjamin Thomas brought a simplicity and an old-world charm as the parents. Harvey Littlefield and Andrea Azzari were entertaining and technically impressive in the demanding roles of the prince’s contrasting attendants. All this was underpinned by a small but solid corps de ballet.
Though the need for exposition made the opening sections seem a little slow, a traditional and lushly romantic pas de deux at the ball and a charming dream sequence delivered all the traditional choreographic elements one could hope for and the production was clear and entertaining in its story telling, making for a very enjoyable evening’s entertainment.
Runs until 10 February 2024