Thursday, 13 June 2019

Cinders in the Round

Standard YouTube Licence

English National Ballet Cinderella  Royal Albert Hall 9 June 2019, 14:30

I have seen three of English National Ballet's productions in the Royal Albert Hall: Romeo and Juliet in 2014, Swan Lake in 2016 and now Cinderella.  The last of those is by far the best.  I would go so far as to say that it was one of the best shows by that company I have ever seen in a lifetime of pretty regular ballet going.

This was not an entirely new show for me, or indeed for London, as it is an adaptation of Christopher Wheeldon's production for the Dutch National Ballet. That company performed it at the Coliseum in 2015 (see Wheeldon's Cinderella 13 July 2015).  I saw it again in Amsterdam just before Christmas (see Cinderella in the Stopera 24 Dec 2018). Wheeldon has used the same creatives: Craig Luca for the libretto, Julian Crouch for sets and costumes, Basil Twist for the tree and carriage, Daniel Brodie for the video and Natasha Katz for the lighting design.

There are several big differences between the Albert Hall and the Stopera or Coliseum.  The first is that the audience surrounds the stage and dancers make their entrances and exits down the gangways. A wonderful opportunity, incidentally, to admire the dancers' costumes, hairstyles and makeup. The second is scale. The projectionist did some wonderful things with a massive screen that stretched from floor to ceiling. One scene showed the royal palace with portraits of the royal family looking down sternly on the antics of the coming generation. One developed horns, another blushes and yet another a withering frown of indignation. The third big difference was that the orchestra performed on a platform high above the stage where they had enough space to swing a leopard. So much better than being cooped up in an orchestra pit under the stage.

The story progressed very much as it had in Holland.  Little Cinders is playing with her parents when her mum suddenly coughs up blood.  The scene changes to the graveyard where her father introduces a new lady in his life.  At first, she does not seem to be such a bad old stick because she presents (or rather gets one of her daughters to present) a bouquet to Cinderella.  Cinders lets the flowers fall to the floor. Perhaps not surprisingly, the new step mum just does not like her new stepdaughter.

The two stepsisters are actually girls, unlike Ashton's version in which he and Robert Helpmann put on drag. One of them is a little kinder to Cinders than the other.  Wheeldon cuts out the dancing lesson and visits from the cobbler, dressmaker and milliner and substitutes spirits of lightness,  generosity, mystery and fluidity representing the seasons. These take the form of tree trunks, unicorns and conkers instead.  He even does away with the fairy godmother but gives her four fates, Skyler Martin (formerly of HNB), Daniel McCormick, Erik Woolhouse and Aitor Arrieta instead. They arrange for Cinders to be conveyed to the ball ib one of the most ingenious carriages I have ever seen.

The second act is the prince's ball where the step mum and her daughters turn up with Cinders's dad but no Cinders wearing quite the wrong outfits and generally making fools of themselves.   Things got worse when the drink was served because the stepmother drank just a teeny weeny bit too much and had to be lifted off the floor and carried to a couch. That role was performed by Sarah Kundi who is one of my favourite dancers. I have followed her ever since she was with Northern Ballet in Leeds. She used to remind me of a famous dancer of my youth whom she still resembles in many ways. Since she joined ENB I have begun to appreciate her for her own qualities.  Kundi stole the second act if not the show and she raised more than a few laughs in the third act when she showed up at the breakfast table with one almighty hangover.

Back to the story. Cinders arrives in a lovely golden dress. She is spotted by the prince who falls for her. Everything goes swimmingly until midnight when the clock chimes, the fates arrive and her stepmother cottons on as to who she must be. Cinders scarpers leaving one of her shoes behind. The third act begins with Cinders serving her dad, Her step mum arrives nursing her head and pukes into the porridge bowl.  The prince then tours his kingdom slipper in hand auditioning for brides.  Some improbable candidates show up. A knight in armour. One of the trees. A unicorn.  Something with very smelly feet.  The step mum and her two daughters one of whom is molested by her mother with a mallet.

And, finally. Cinderella who fits the slipper perfectly.  The stepmother peevishly tosses it onto the fire but, happily, Cinders kept the other one. There is a royal wedding and everyone is happy.  Cinderella even has a kiss for her former tormenter.  And the kinder of the two step-sisters finds love with the prince's best friend.  I have been rather spoilt watching  Anna Tsygankova and Matthew Golding in the leading roles in London and Remi Wörtmeyer and Anna Ol in Amsterdam but Erina Takahashi was a lovely Cinders and Joseph Caley was a great prince. Good to see Gavin Sutherland from Huddersfield conducting the orchestra, But the star for me on Sunday was definitely Kundi.

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