Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Hampson's Cinderella: Coming up Roses

Standard YouTube Licence

Scottish Ballet Cinderella  Theatre Royal, Newcastle, 1 Feb 2019

I first saw Christopher Hampson's Cinderella in Edinburgh on 19 Dec 2015 and I loved it  (see Scottish Ballet's Cinderella 20 Dec 2015). I saw it again in Newcastle on Friday and loved it all the more.  I have been asking myself why I love it so much.  I think it is because it is multilayered.  Very different from the pantomimes and films of childhood.

At one layer there is the narrative.  The libretto is conventional enough but, to get a better idea of the theme, watch the video, Designing Cinderella.  Hampson and his designer, Tracy Grant Lord. explain the significance of the rose.  That is the second layer.  Roses are even more important than glass slippers because Cinders's slipper is discovered and shredded.  "How is the prince to authenticate his bride?" the audience wonders as the rest of womankind force their hooves and flippers into the discarded shoe.  Happily, Cinderella had another memento of the evening, namely the silver rose that the prince had given her at the ball.  She produced that rose and all was well.  Roses are everywhere. In the backdrop, the clothes and of course the cemetery where Cinderella's mum is buried.

But there is a layer below the roses and I think that it explains why the ballet appeals so much to me.  Hampson's ballet is a study of emotion.  After the death of his first wife, Cinderella's father seeks solace in a second marriage but it fails to work.  Cinderella is a constant reminder.  He takes to drink incurring the contempt of his stepchildren and the despair of his new wife.  Reason enough to explain her resentment of Cinderella.

In most interpretations of the story, Cinderella is a victim. Not so much in this ballet,  Not even as a scullery maid,  She is resourceful.  She has the cash for her mother's portrait which the stepmother is desperate to remove  She can dance in contrast to her stepsisters' stumblings. Even her work clothes eclipse her stepsisters' finery. The prince for all his wealth and power is lonely.  It is Cinderella who rescues him from his loneliness at least as much as he rescues her from her servitude.

Such complex characters are difficult to portray.  When I saw the show in Edinburgh I was enchanted by Bethany Kingsley-Garner and Christopher Harrison.  They were so good I had to see them in those roles a second time. Kingsley-Garner commands a stage like few others.  An actress as much as a dancer and she is a dancer of considerable strength and virtuosity.  Hampson demands a lot from his Cinderellas such as successions of relevés combined with dévelopés and his trade mark backwards jump.  Delightful to watch but probably exhausting to perform.  Another favourite, Araminta Wraith, danced Cinderella's stepmother.  She is also a fine communicator.  She helped me understand and sympathize with her character better than I had ever done before. Nicholas Shoesmith portrayed Cinderella's broken father with pathos.  Claire Souet and Aisling Brangan the ridiculous stepsisters with bathos. Grace Horler charmed us as the fairy godmother.

In my estimation, Hampson is the best narrative ballet choreographer that we have,   He may be less prolific in this genre than other choreographers but everything he produces is good,  Next year he will present The Snow Queen to mark the 50th anniversary of the company's move from Bristol.  With music by Rimsky-Korsakov and designs by Lez Brotherston, it should be splendid.

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