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Yes, it’s Yuletide again and theatre managements everywhere are bringing out their big guns to celebrate the season. Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Cinderella is one of many on offer this year both danced and acted (behind yer!), but this one’s different, a new production to mark BRB’s 20th anniversary in Brum and created as a gift to this great city.
It’s a bold move. There are already several other Cinders ballets on the go nationally, Frederick Ashton’s famous one for the Opera House, English National Ballet’s and of course Matthew Bourne’s updating set during the Blitz. To some extent Bintley plays safe, but with a few tricks of his own. The production’s overall look is frost and tinsel, while for the costumes the dressing-up box has been raided – think cosy home dressmaking rather than couture, with sequins over lace over taffeta over velvet.
The opening kitchen scene contains some longueurs without really making us feel as sorry as we should for poor old Cinders. At least she’s in the dry. Her step-sisters may be a bit spiteful but nothing a little self-assertion wouldn’t see off. Only BRB’s dynamic ballet mistress Marion Tait truly convinces and chills as their wicked mother. Her exquisite command of gesture ensures we see all the jealousy and ambition for her own blood from which her daughters both take their cue. Here it starts to work.
The ballroom scene is dark, sinister, all raven’s wing colours that seem somehow wrong – is it a party, or what? There’s a distant echo of M Bourne’s Swan Lake ballroom, but without the designs to match. Similarly the ugly sisters, one thin, one fat (is this sizeist?) are a bit punky, a bit common, both merely gauche, again underplaying a classic Bourne card.
The night I saw it Natasha Oughtred as Cinderella was nice enough, and Joseph Caley as the Prince smiled but hadn’t much oomph. In fairness Cinderella’s story hasn’t the sublime power of other fairytale ballets such as The Sleeping Beauty nor the endless variety of perennial BRB favourite The Nutcracker. In addition Prokofiev’s music lacks the grandeur and sensuality of his Romeo and Juliet, now sounding discordant and outmoded. It’s a pity BRB couldn’t have run to a new score allowing the choreographer a full reimagining.
But the preparations for the ball are a delight, the transformation scene with its dancing animals is ravishing and the corps de ballet of pirouetting stars truly lovely. Bintley’s Cinderella is a huge, Christmassy spectacle, a popular choice which drew loud cheers at the end.
Cinderella runs until December 12. For tickets phone the Hippodrome on 0844 338 5000 or go online at www.brb.org.uk.
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