Archive for the ‘Cinderella’ Category

Cinderella, Gergiev and the LSO, BBC Prom 52, Royal Albert Hall, 22 August 2012

22 August, 2012

Combining Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra to play ballet music is a winner. At the Proms in 2008 they gave an electrifying performance of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty, and this year they produced a superb rendering of Prokofiev’s Cinderella.

Cinderella tends to be less well-known than Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, and partly for that reason less favoured on radio broadcasts, but it is a fascinating score, and the LSO gave it their best. In the first act when the fairy godmother appears in her new guise, Gergiev produced a lovely musical sweep into the world of magic where she conjures up visions of the year with its four seasons. And then as Cinderella finally sets off for the ball he rounded the music off to perfection. After a short pause we moved into Act II where they placed brass up in the top gallery for the entrance of the prince and his companions, and as their sound filled the hall and was answered by the orchestra on stage the result was quite unlike anything you will hear in the theatre — it was wonderfully effective! Towards the end of that act the music swelled out strongly for the Prince and Cinderella, before dying away and moving into the waltz-coda, and then the ominous ticking of the clock as midnight approaches.

After the interval came Act III where the Prince searches for Cinderella, and as he finds her the music developed gloriously. After the slow waltz came a ravishing amoroso, ending with a beautiful diminuendo. What a change this was from the Proms in 2011 when Gergiev conducted Swan Lake with the Maryinsky theatre orchestra, who produced the usual boilerplate rendering they had been serving up in the theatre. As I wrote at the time, I longed to hear Gergiev back again with the LSO at the Proms in 2012, and this was it, a world-class conductor with a world-class orchestra — it was a huge pleasure.

Cinderella, Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB), London Coliseum, March 2011

30 March, 2011

Stage versions of Cinderella are many and varied. In Rossini’s opera there’s a pompous stepfather, in Massenet’s a stepmother, and in Ashton’s classic ballet a father. But all agree that Cinderella’s mother has died, and in David Bintley’s new production we see a glimpse of her funeral during the overture. It’s a brief but poignant scene, well supported by Prokofiev’s music, as is much else in Bintley’s new creation — seen here in London for the first time.

The magic starts, all photos by Bill Cooper

The two stepsisters are played here as obnoxiously juvenile girls, their teasing easily turning to pushing and shoving, but they can also be funny and I loved the incidents at the ball with the major domo’s staff of office. Above all, however, is the nasty stepmother, brilliantly portrayed by Marion Tait. Her ball dress was stunning, and when the prince brings the slipper to the house she follows her awful daughters in trying it on . . . before Cinderella herself comes forward.

Frog coachman, lizard footmen and mouse pages

The business with the slippers is very cleverly done, starting in the kitchen scene of Act I. Cinderella brings out a red box containing a portrait of her mother, and two pretty bejewelled slippers. The stepsisters suddenly enter and grab them, until more urgent matters claim their attention and Cinders can hide them again. Then when everyone’s gone, and she’s alone again, the fire suddenly springs to life and a barefooted old crone appears from nowhere, seated next to it. Cinderella gives her the precious slippers, catalyzing the magic. Bintley uses the slippers very skilfully and when Cinders returns from the ball she fishes out the red box again, hiding her remaining slipper. Once again the wretched sisters burst in again and grab it, but this time they are interrupted by the arrival of the prince himself, and Cinderella, unable to hide the box in its usual place, sits by the fire holding it. This seems an awkward moment for her while the sisters and stepmother try on the slipper, but then shyly and slowly she comes forward with the matching slipper. There is no rush, and this important moment is given full focus, creating a sense of wonder, well supported by Prokofiev’s glorious music.

Elisha Willis and Iain Mackay, Act III

The music is well used, and Bintley’s production manages to insert magic into moments that are sometimes missed, greatly helped by Koen Kessels’ wonderfully sympathetic conducting. Designs by John Macfarlane express the dichotomy between the cold looking kitchen and the mysterious world beyond for the seasons and the stars, glimpsed in the distant background of the ball scene. I loved the way the coach came together at the end of Act I, taking Cinderella off to the ball, and I loved the clock, as it came together in Act II, with its inner workings showing the rapid passing of time. Lighting by David Finn was excellent and I particularly liked the gradual visibility of the ball scene at the start of Act II.

The corps de ballet and soloists danced beautifully and Elisha Willis was a lovely Cinderella, showing refinement and strength in reserve, well deserving her very handsome prince in the form of Iain Mackay. Victoria Marr was a gentle fairy godmother, and the sisters were very amusingly portrayed by Gaylene Cummerfield and Carol-Anne Millar — I particularly liked Ms. Cummerfield’s clumsiness at the ball, sickling her foot most horribly at one point. And throughout it all, Marion Tait as the stepmother, holds the stage with a nod and glance.

This production by David Bintley has moments of magic, and when you go you should buy a programme to read Neil Philip’s interesting essay on the myth of Cinderella, including a version connected with the folk tale aspect of Shakespeare’s King Lear.

Performances at the London Coliseum continue until April 2 — for more information, and to book on-line, click here.

Preview — Cinderella, Birmingham Royal Ballet, London Coliseum, March 2011

28 March, 2011

Following its world premiere in Birmingham last November, and Christmas Day BBC Television debut, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s new production of Cinderella comes to London for the first time.

all photos by Bill Cooper

Choreography is by the wonderful David Bintley, with designs by John Macfarlane whose brilliant work on the Magic Flute was recently seen at the Royal Opera House. To top this, the lighting design is by David Finn, whose updated lighting for the Royal Ballet’s Giselle gives such a wonderful air of threatening magic to Act 2.

See my report after the first night on Tuesday, March 29.

Performances at the London Coliseum continue until April 2 — for more information, and to book on-line, click here.

Cinderella with Rojo and Côté, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, December 2010

4 December, 2010

For a description of the production, see my earlier review of a superb performance in November. This was a second view, in which we had Tamara Rojo as Cinderella, with guest artist Guillaume Côté from the National Ballet of Canada as her prince.

Tamara Rojo as Cinderella, photo by Bill Cooper

Tamara Rojo — a superbly accomplished ballerina — made a strong start with a somewhat minx-like portrayal, rather than being a poor ingénue, but she was insufficiently matched by Jonathan Howells and Alastair Marriott as the step-sisters in Act I. They got off to a rather mechanical start, and though things greatly improved in the Act II ball scene, the humour in their roles never fully came over. The performance as a whole took some time to warm up, but in Act II, Rojo and Côté, surrounded by the ‘dancing stars’ gave a display of classical ballet at its best. Ashton was a master of large ensemble dances and this was magical.

Act I also had its moments, particularly after Francesca Filpi as the fairy godmother introduced the Seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter (danced by Emma Maguire, Hikaru Kobayashi, Samantha Raine and Itziar Mendizabal). This forms a wonderful interlude after the real world has been swept away and replaced by the realm of magic for the remainder of the Act. Ms. Kobayashi was wonderfully warm and fluid as Summer, and Ms. Mendizabal showed great musicality in her dancing of Winter.

Paul Kay as the Jester, photo by Tristram Kenton

Guillaume Côté made a perfect prince in Act II partnering very well with Tamara Rojo, and Paul Kay danced the jester with perfect timing, jumping as if he were made of nothing more than the wit and charm he represented. Along with the principal couple, he was the star of the evening. Act III was beautifully executed by Rojo and Côté, and she gave a fine portrayal of the poor girl who retained the slipper matching the one she dropped in rushing away from the ball. Her sudden transformation there, from beauty to rags, was very well done, as were all the transformations in this production by Wendy Somes. It’s a delightful representation of Prokofiev’s imaginative score, very well conducted by Pavel Sorokin, and no matter which cast you see it’s an evening to savour.

Further performances are scheduled for December 9, 13, 17, 21, 28, 29 and 31 — for details click here. If you cannot get tickets, another run takes place around the Easter period — April 7, 10, 12, 13, 16, 19, 23, 25, and May 3 and 6, though booking is not yet open.

Cinderella, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, November 2010

21 November, 2010

One of the lovely things about Ashton’s Cinderella is the intermingling of the real world with the magical world. This makes it ideal for Christmas or Easter, when everyday life for many people is invested with a little magic.

Marianela Nuñez as Cinderella, photos by Tristram Kenton

Act I starts with poor Cinderella by the fire, and the party preparations of her ridiculous step-sisters. An old crone comes begging and the poor girl’s sympathy for her is rewarded when the old woman reappears . . . and the magic starts. One transformation follows another: the crone turns into a fairy godmother, she causes the house to disappear, and then ushers in the fairies of spring, summer, autumn and winter, with the sets transforming between each one. The soloists on this first night (Iohna Loots, Yuhui Choe, Samantha Raine and Hikaru Kobayashi) all did well, and Choe was outstandingly warm and musical as Summer. So many transformations in a single Act, yet there is one more to come as the pumpkin turns into a coach, which then takes a beautifully transformed Cinderella off to the ball.

Rupert Pennefather as the Prince

In Act II the real and magical worlds alternate, and Rupert Pennefather as the prince seems to inhabit both, as does Paul Kay as a brilliantly acrobatic jester. Those ugly sisters now reappear, and when Cinderella later comes on looking like a princess, Gary Avis as the taller sister casts an embarrassing glance at his own garish costume. He and Philip Mosley interacted superbly with one another as the sisters, and Avis was gloriously over the top without ever descending into pantomime or farce. The comic timing was perfect. On the magical side, Laura Morera was a lovely fairy godmother, and Marianela Nuñez was wonderful as Cinderella, both as a simple house-slave and as the queen of the ball — a true fairy-tale character.

This production by Wendy Somes contains some clever ideas such as the moon transforming into a clock in Act I when the fairy godmother warns that the spell will break at midnight, and then the clock in the ball scene — invisible from the Amphitheatre — shows itself in the lighting on the dance-floor so the whole audience can see it. The transformation of Cinderella’s clothes from a brilliant white tutu to rags is done in a split second, and the poor girl flees as the curtains close.

Paul Kay as the Jester

Act III again mixes the mundane and the magical, and some clever effects are achieved with Mark Jonathan’s lighting. I like the dappled pink effect in the auditorium during the overture, and the dappled white at the end, as the prince and his bride recede into the distance. For an evening of enchantment you won’t do better. Ashton’s choreography is magical — the fairy-tale entrance of Cinderella to the ball as she comes down the stairs en pointe in ethereal splendour, the brilliant asymmetry of the twelve stars … one could go on and on.

Prokofiev’s score was beautifully conducted by Pavel Sorokin, and further performances are scheduled for November 24, 27 and December 2, 3, 9, 13, 17, 21, 28, 29 and 31. Other dancers in the role of Cinderella are: Yuhui Choe, Roberta Marquez, Tamara Rojo and Lauren Cuthbertson — for more details click here, though tickets seem to be almost entirely sold out. If you miss it in 2010, another run of performances is arranged around the Easter period — April 7, 10, 12, 13, 16, 19, 23, 25, and May 3 and 6, but booking is not yet open.

Cinderella, English National Ballet, ENB at the London Coliseum, August 2010

12 August, 2010

This is a very welcome revival of Michael Corder’s production, with beautiful dancing by Daria Klimentova as Cinderella, very well supported by Vadim Muntagirov as the prince. She showed a charming strength and serenity, and he was a danseur noble with elegant gestures and superb entrechats and pirouettes. They made a wonderful couple.

Muntagirov as the prince, photo by Pedro Lapetra

Michael Corder’s choreography is very different from Ashton’s version for the Royal Ballet. Among a host of differences, two things stand out. One is that the stepsisters are girls, rather than en travesti roles, and Ashton’s cuts are rescinded, so the start of Act III involves the prince being tempted by other women, including Spanish, Egyptian and Oriental princesses. The sisters were brilliantly performed by Adela Ramirez and Sarah McIlroy, who also danced the Spanish and Egyptian princesses in Act III. They showed a pretty bitchiness they obviously got from their mother, who is very much present in this production. She was well portrayed by Jane Haworth, with Michael Coleman as a seriously hen-pecked husband.

An interesting aspect of this production are the vision scenes. When Cinderella is being mercilessly teased and abused by her stepsisters and stepmother in Act I, the fairy godmother, danced by Begoña Cao, appears to her alone — this is different from Ashton’s version where an old crone arrives to beg for food. Then there is a second vision scene in Act III when Cinderella appears to the Prince, but eludes him. These visions are a fine aspect of Michael Corder’s version, as is the transformation at the end when the old house vanishes, though I missed the midnight transformation when her costume turns to rags. Here she simply runs off in her finery, but this does fit with the concept of Cinderella creating her own transformation, embodied in her early conjuring up of a fairy godmother.

Sarah McIlroy, Juan Rodriguez, Adela Ramirez, photo by Annabel Mueller

It’s a huge cast, and the dancing was very good indeed. I particularly liked Juan Rodriguez as the dancing master, who had excellent stage presence, and his gestures were wonderful. Prokofiev’s music was beautifully conducted by music director Gavin Sutherland. He gave it warmth and spontaneity, and I liked Paul Pyant’s lighting design, which allowed us to feel as if we were present at an evening where dreams become reality.

Performances continue until Sunday, August 15, including a celebration of the English National Ballet’s 60th birthday on Saturday the 14th — for more details click here.

Cinderella, Royal Ballet, 17 April 2010

18 April, 2010

Frederick Ashton’s choreography gives full power to the fairy tale aspect of the story, and when Cinderella enters the ball in Act II she comes down the stairs en pointe. This gives an ethereal quality to her transfer from the world of enchantment to the human world where her frightful stepsisters cavort around in their garish costumes, hoping to attract a prince whose taste is far above theirs. In this performance, Yuhui Choe danced Cinderella with exceptional charm and refinement. Her elegant footwork and sympathetic body language marks her out as an exceptional future performer of this role.

If this ballet is mainly about Cinderella herself — and it is — there is still plenty of dancing to watch.

Jonathan Howells and Alastair Marriott as the step-sisters, photo Bill Cooper

Alastair Marriott and Jonathan Howells played the obnoxious step-sisters with great wit — Howells as the taller sister was a hoot, but never over the top. Sergei Polunin was a handsome prince and danced extremely well in this difficult role — he’s only 20 but is already a fast rising star in the Company, well worth watching in any role they give him. Francesca Filpi was a lovely fairy godmother, and Fernando Montaño was suitably acrobatic as the Jester, though I prefer a stronger stage presence. As the fairies we had Elizabeth Harrod as Spring, Hikaru Kobayashi as Summer, Samantha Raine as Autumn, and Claire Calvert as Winter. All danced well but Ms Kobayashi was exceptional as Summer — dreamy and languidly warm.

This production by Wendy Ellis Somes has been criticised for the costumes and even the sets, but I think most of this criticism is unwarranted, and there are some nice touches such as the coach appearing fully on-stage as Ashton originally wished, but couldn’t manage with the smaller space available at the time. The lighting by Mark Jonathan is excellent, and I liked the rotating speckled effect that covers the whole auditorium during the overture. It helps to engage the audience in the forthcoming stage magic. I only wish the transformation from old crone to fairy godmother in Act I were done on-stage, as was once the case. Instead the shadow of the old crone reappears outside the house, and then the fairy godmother enters through the door.

Act III, photo by Bill Cooper

Production and dancing aside this ballet would be nothing without the music, and as soon as the first bars emerged from the orchestra I was entranced. Pavel Sorokin produced excellent lyricism and tension from Prokofiev’s score, and it was an enormous relief to have a good conductor in the pit. Unfortunately he dropped the tempo at some points, particularly with the stepsisters and their father at the beginning of Act I, which forced their movements to be far too sluggish. But Sorokin is evidently a capable conductor, which makes a pleasant change. The Royal Ballet has tolerated some lacklustre conducting recently, particularly in full-length ballets such as Sleeping Beauty, so let us hope this is a permanent change for the better. The company’s dancing is superb, and deserves equally fine musical support.