Thursday, 31 October 2019

Wheeldon's Cinderella in Manchester

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English National Ballet Cinderella Palace Theatre 19 Oct 2019 14:00

I have now seen Christopher Wheeldon's Cinderella no less than four times: twice with the Dutch National Ballet once in London and the other time in Amsterdam; and twice with the English National Ballet once at the Royal Albert Hall earlier this year and most recently at the Palace Theatre in my home town.  It is a sumptuous ballet with gorgeous costumes and elaborate sets. It is also very witty with glowering portraits and hilarious faux-pas from Hortensia as she downs the bubbly at the prince's ball.

The Palance has the smallest stage upon which I have seen this show and it struck me as I looked at the somewhat blurry cloud scene that it would not di justice to the animations that are built into the sets. I need not have worried because the dancing attracted and held my attention.  Erina Takahashi danced the title role and she fitted it perfectly.  Joseph Caley was her prince and I can't think of a better partner for her. He delighted me in the first duet in the palace where they fell in love and then in the last scene when she produced the missing slipper.  But there is a lot more to this ballet than a love story which is why the supporting characters are so important.

At the Albert Hall, it was Sarah Kundi who nade the ballet for me,   She danced Cinderella's stepmother, Hortensia, who made an exhibition of herself even before the wine was served. As the second act continued she became tighter and tighter and behaved increasingly outrageously.  She turns up at the breakfast table with a head the size of a balloon, a vile temper and eventually throws up in the porridge bowl. At the Saturday matinee, that role was danced by Tiffany Hedman, Now she is good - particularly technically - but I think you have to be brought up in the country that invented pantomime to carry it off s well as Kundi.

The other theme of Wheeldon's ballet is the romance between the prince's childhood companion, Benjamin, and Cinderella's stepsister, Clementine.  He was danced by the American guest artist Brooklyn Mack and she by Katja Khaniukova.  I also enjoyed watching Alison McWhiney who danced Edwina amusingly. 

There are scenes from other productions of the ballet that Wheeldon leaves out such as the dancing lesson and substituted wood spirits and seasons in their place.  I am still not sure how that works but I suppose it gives an excuse for woodland sprits and other strange creations to take their place in the queue for the shoe filling with the knight in armour brandishing a halberd.  I enjoyed the second where an alarmed Benjamin jumped straight into the prince's arms.

After Manchester, this show went on to Southampton where it seems to have run its course for the time being.  That is a pity because I think it is English National's best show in the repertoire and I am sure that other audiences would like to have seen it.  Most classical companies feel compelled to do The Nutcracker at this time of the year which is fair enough but they could have rested Le Corsaire and Akram Khan's Giselle for just a little longer.  Especially since audiences will have Dada Masilo's excellent production in their recent recollection.

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