Monday, 23 December 2019
Northern Ballet's Cinderella Second Time Round
Standard YouTube Licence
Northern Ballet Cinderella Grand Theatre, Leeds 21 Dec 2019 19:00
I attended Northern Ballet's Cinderella at the Grand on Saturday the day after I saw The Wizard of Oz at the Leeds Playhouse. I could not help reflecting that the two shows had more than a little in common, Both rely heavily on special effects. Both had wizards and cuddly dogs. The only difference between the scene in which Dorothy acquires the slippers of the wicked witch of the east and Cinders her glass ones was in the colour of the footwear. Anyone looking for h a rollicking good spectacle in Leeds has two from which to choose this Christmas.
For that reason, Northern Ballet's Cinderella may not be for everyone. Anybody expecting Prokofiev's glorious music or the folk tale of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm will not find them in this version. A new score was commissioned from Philip Feeney who had previously composed the music for a Christopher Gable's version of Cinderella. As Feeney remarked in the programme notes, the ballet was set in imperial Russia. I think I detected allusions to Petrushka in the winter market and crystal lake scenes. Unlike most versions of Cinderella, her torment begins with the death of her father and not that of her mother, Instead of a fairy godmother or birds Cinderella is rescued by a magician.
As in Wuthering Heights, Nixon has a young heroine and a grown-up one. A flashback to Cinderella's childhood worked rather well in that it provided an explanation for the stepmother's antipathy towards Cinderella. Cinders had pestered her father to retrieve a shawl from the other side of a stream where a shoot was taking place. As he picked it up he was struck by a stray shot. It is much easier to understand a widow's anger at such needless loss of life than resentment at the rejection of a bunch of flowers as in Christopher Wheeldon's version of the ballet.
Any version of Cinderella is about grief and jealousy. These are heavy subjects that need to be leavened now and then. There is plenty of scope for levity in Cinderella. Sir Frederick Ashton and Sir Robert Helpmann were a hoot as the ugly sisters in the Royal Ballet's version in the early 1970s (see Sir Frederick Ashton - A Most Lovably Monstrous Ugly Sister), So, too, was Sarah Kundi (a former Northern Ballet dancer) as the stepmother who gets tighter and tighter at the royal ball in Christopher Wheeldon's (see Cinders in the Round 13 June 2019). There is also the shoe matching scene. Wheeldon has knights in armour in the queue to try the shoe. Darius James and Amy Doughty dress Cinderella's brother as a girl and attempt to saw lumps off his foot in Ballet Cymru's version. There was nothing like that in Nixon's version. Apart from the magic with which the wizard transformed Cinderella's kitchen that reminded me of the easy peasy lemon squeezy advert and the illuminated "Cinders" sign on the sleigh I can't remember much to laugh about in Northern Ballet's Cinders.
Having said that, I had come to watch a ballet and not a pantomime, Dancers who particularly impressed me yesterday include Miki Akuta as young Cinderella, Antoinette Brooks-Daw as the stepmother, Jonathan Hinks, Matthew Topliss who danced the magician or wizard and Cinderellas dad and Sarah Chun in the title role. This was the first time I had noticed Chun in a leading role and she performed it with flair. I shall look out for her in future. Another quality I noticed on Saturday was Brooks-Daw's acting. Scenes that stood out were her picking up and tossing down Cinderella's shawl immediately after her husband's death and the purposefulness with which she tries to separate her stepdaughter from the prince at the ball.
I have not praised everything that Nixon has produced but this is one ballet that I like a lot. This is the second time I have seen it. On the first occasion I described it as a triumph (see Northern Ballet's Cinderella - a Triumph 27 Dec 2013). Though not perfect in every respect, Cinderella is one of the best works in Northern Ballet's repertoire. It is just over halfway through a nationwide tour that started last September and ends in June. It stays at the Grand until 2 Jan and will then visit Leicester, Milton Keynes and the Lowry. If you can reach any of those venues, it is well worth seeing.