Sunday, 20 December 2015

Scottish Ballet's Cinderella

Scottish Ballet, Cinderella,  Festival Theatre, Edinburgh 19 Dec 2015

While just about every other company in the United Kingdom is staging The Nutcracker this Christmas (see All those Nutcrackers 11 Dec 2015) Scottish Ballet presents Cinderella not as "a rags-to-riches story that offers a girl a way out of the ordinary" but as a study of grief and loneliness. But it is not only Cinderella who is lonely, as the choreographer, Christopnher Hampson, explains in his interview with Alan Morrison in the programme notes. So, too, is the prince and they each find a way out of their loneliness by finding each other.

Such a prince has to be very sensitive and Hampson chose Christopher Harrison to dance that role. Having previously seen Harrison as Romeo and Stanley in A Streetcar named Desire (Scottish Ballet's Timeless Romeo and Juliet 18 May 2014 and Scottish Ballet's Streetcar 2 April 2015) which are strong male roles. It was something of a revelation that he does sensitive but he can and he did it very well. His bride, Bethany Kingsley-Garner whom I had previously seen as Gretel and the the Sugar Plum (see Scottish Ballet's Hansel and Gretel 23 Dec 2013 and Like meeting an old friend after so many years 4 Jan 2015), was a more obvious fit. She was a delightful Cinderella -not too good to be true - she appreciated the attention from the dressmakers when they came to prepare her stepsisters and stepmother for the ball.

The other stars in Hampson's Cinderella are those step sisters and for those roles he chose the company's female principals, Eve Mutso and Sophie Martin. These are magnificent dancers.  I saw them both in Marc Brew's Exalt earlier this year (see No Mean City - Accessible Dance and Ballet 26 April 2015). Mutso has been nominated for the National  Dance Awards for her performance as Blanche in Streetcar. It must be difficult for such graceful creatures to clown on stage but how we laughed as they struggled through their dance lesson and dress and show fittings, their gauche encounters with the prince and his courtiers and their attempts to make the slipper fit.

Hampson structured the ballet very cleverly, Each Act was preceded with a prologue with the house lights up. The mourners at the funeral of Cinderella's mother started the ballet. Two flunkies dusted a chandelier before Act II. Matthew Broadbent, one of Leeds's favourites when he was at Northern Ballet, laboured at his last as the bossy royal shoemaker. For me it was such a delight to see him again. The transposition of the grasshopper (Jamiel Lawrence) for the scornful dancing master and moths and spiders for the shoe and dressmakers is another example of Hampson's ingenuity. They mirrored the real world with fantasy.

There was some novel choreography. The grasshopper's dives which startled Cinderella first time and then amused her at the next delighted me. So too were the back to back lifts in the final pas de deux between Cinderella and her prince which were surprisingly graceful. There was Martin's can-can as she tried to interest the prince and Mutso's duet with the courtier struggling to retain his dignity with this she monster.

The sets and costumes for this performance were stunning. They were designed by Tracy Grant Lord who had originally created them for the Royal New Zealand Ballet's production of Hampson's Cinderella in 2007. The were among the best that we have seen since the days of Diaghilev. The designs are almost an integral part of the libretto. For instance, the rose tree that Cinderella plants by her mother's grave with its leaves that become a face and are almost a continuing presence of her mother.

There is so much to like about this production. Even the programmes are to be treasured for their fine paper, rich colours, striking designs and high quality printing. The Festival Theatre is a delightful venue with a restaurant that serves some of the best meals and snacks that I have ever savoured in Edinburgh. Despite the Forth Bridge closures the Edinburgh season is pretty close to fully booked but the show will shortly tour Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness though, sadly, not the rest of the country.  It was well worth a trek from Yorkshire. Knowing what I now know, I would travel from the Lizard or cross seas or even oceans to see it again.

I began this year with a review of Darrell's Nutcracker and it is fitting that the last ballet that I will see this year is Hampson's Cinderella. Scottish Ballet connects me with my days at St Andrews which were the happiest of my life. I try not to have favourite companies. I love English National Ballet, the Dutch National Ballet, Rambert, the Royal and Birmingham Royal Ballets, Ballet Black, Ballet Cymru, Northern Ballet, Phoenix and many others with a passion. But Scottish Ballet was my first love and you know what they say about the first love being the love that is never to be forgotten.

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