English National Ballet
11th August 2010
Cinderella. A broomstick and a glass slipper. The moral of the story ? Ladies – be a bit more careless with your shoes and you never know who might turn up.
Michael Corder’s choreography begins with Cinderella alone at the fireside, missing her dead mother and cherishing a locket that belonged to her. Is it possible to clean, musically ? Daria Klimentová does, swopping dust motes with musical notes. The fireside scene looks dusty and faded brown with an almost comically over-sized door; I’ve never understood why the two Stepsisters want to spend so much time in the kitchen, but they do.
Corder’s genius is to play the Stepsisters as properly mean-spirited, squabbling attention-seeking brats which is much more in tune with modern families today. With an imperious bullying mother , none of them have any time for Cinderella and yet they taunt her continually with their invitation to the ball. Don’t they have any friends ? Probably not. Sarah Mcllroy and Adela Ramírez couldn’t have danced more superbly or in character if they’d tried. Ramírez has light, fast feet and whip-cracking changes of direction do not faze her; she is in her element here.
Klimentová has silken commas for feet and in her Cinderella rags they mark her out as someone very special. The dress itself is a little too rustic and stiff; flowing faded elegance fits better in this once grand house – even if the silk has been attacked by a cheese cutter.
Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, Begoña Cao, has beautiful lines hampered by a shiny, scrappy costume better suited to the Cirque du soleil acrobats, and the same goes for all the Season costumes. Their headdresses firmly belong in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Cao will dance Cinderella in today’s matinee (with the fabulous Esteban Berlanga as her Prince) and I’d recommend that you see them if you can. Berlanga danced one of the Prince’s Companions, alongside James Forbat, and both were exemplary; matching pace and height with clever partnering. Because they are both in dazzling white, with An Officer and a Gentleman feel about them, they both out-dazzle the Prince who finds himself in cream. A dash of gold suits Vadim Muntagirov but he hasn’t much to do – this is Cinderella’s night.
As Cao appears through the fog on stage, through the huge kitchen door, Klimentová can only sense her presence, and together they dance with the magic. When the Fairy Godmother is finally revealed to her, Klimentová watches as the Seasons and their Cavaliers dance for her. Aside from the distracting costumes I think it’s a mistake to give the Fairy Seasons a Cavalier; it clutters up their lines even more and the staccato rhythm danced by most of them did nothing to imbue the choreography with expressions of the weather and it confused the audience who often had no idea whether they had stopped or simply paused. Fairy Autumn (Shiori Kase and Daniel Kraus) has the most emphatic ending, and Jenna Lee had a notable debut as Fairy Winter.
This scene is also missing a transformation, and it’s not the only one. Once the Stars, with their beautiful tutus, have arrived – and Ruth Brill really has arrived – Cinderella is whisked away by coach at such speed that even the Seasons had trouble seeing the way over her billowing veil. And where is the pumpkin ? There must be a pumpkin.
The Act 11 ball scenes are some of the best of the evening; delicately sparkling deep blue dresses for the ladies against a rich blue cloth and the obligatory sparkly chandeliers. This is our first glimpse of Muntagirov since his successful Swan Lake debut in June, and he looks every inch this Prince. He is less smiley this time, more earnest and his partnering has a smoothness topped with a new, confident flourish.
Juan Rodriguez, as The Dancing Master, takes the place of the Jester seen in other productions, and I found that I didn’t miss the Jester’s high jinks. The interactions between the Stepsisters and their teacher were more down to earth & held my attention far more; they were more human and believable in a story about faeries and stars. It’s hard enough trying to believe that anyone really would be that careless with a shoe without having to suspend belief altogether with pantomime dames and Harlequins.
The Stepsisters have gaudy costumes in orange and red with bows in all the wrong places but boy do they make the most of the choreography here to the extent that you can forgive a loud costume. They spend their time trying to impress anyone and everyone, and the Prince has quite a task keeping away from their flailing limbs
and grasping claws.
Once Klimentová is wearing a tutu she instantly becomes a ballerina and in this scene Cinderella needs to look, initially at least, awe-struck and mesmerised by the grandeur and the Prince. From her entrance borne aloft, Klimentová dances as though she belongs there and never had a single sleepless night wondering whether her Prince would ever arrive. And her dancing ! Her beautiful arms phrase the music and those turning silken commas work their magic so that Muntagirov is helplessly under their spell, as are we. Together they weave their magic in the Pas de deux to the softly tinkling Prokofiev score, with assured partnering for the most part and lovely variations.
But the clock is relentlessly ticking and Cinderella has forgotten the golden rule. As she flees, there is no big reveal back into her rags, and the dropped shoe has in fact already been carefully placed on the step.
Act 111 is overlong – the whole ballet could be cut by 40 minutes and no-one would mind – and the Prince embarks on a worldwide search for his love. The ballroom couples reappear, masked this time –how is that going to help the search?
Adela Ramírez returns as the Spanish Princess and Sarah Mcllroy as the Egyptian Princess and along with Stina Quagebeur as the Oriental Princess they confuse the Prince until he finally wakes up. All are outdone by Chantel Roulston and Nicola Henshall as the Handmaidens in wispy costumes with sharp footwork and flowing port de bras.
Meanwhile, Cinderella is back at the kitchen fireside, dreaming of her night at the ball. I didn’t get any sense here of her gradually remembering the events unfold, and her other slipper is right by the fireside staring her in the face so there is no accidental discovery of it either.
When the Prince arrives to tempt the Stepsisters to try on his half of the pair of slippers, hardly requiring the slightest of effort on his part, they have a high old time on the stools but thankfully it’s less pantomime than it would had they been en travesti.
Cinderella dances beseechingly around the Prince but she is in the wrong clothes and he doesn’t notice her, until eventually he does spot her standing next to her Father and asks her to try the slipper. The resulting Happy Ever After is nicely done, with the Fairy Godmother, the Stars & the Seasons finally bidding the moon farewell, heralding the beginning of a new dawn.
Cinderella is in rep until Sunday 15th August with their 60th Birthday performance on Saturday 14th August when you too can go to the ball & enjoy a party after the show with the company dancers and staff (if you’ve got deep pockets or know someone who has).