Dance: A bit of pointing and shoving
Wednesday 13 January 1999
ENGLISH NATIONAL BALLET
THIS is much the best of Prokofiev's three-act ballet scores, but you would scarcely know that from English National Ballet's production. The music is somewhat raucously played by the ENB Orchestra under Patrick Flynn's direction, losing the composer's contrast between sweet and harsh; but, more important, the choreography seems to me to run directly counter to what Prokofiev intended.
True, Michael Corder has assembled a multiplicity of steps: not quite one to every note, but enough to satisfy balletomanes who want only to see dancers in hectic movement all the time. But he seems not to have noticed that the ballet Cinderella has a story, and that the score was written to serve that story at all moments. And the sense of form which Corder shows in his best works entirely forsakes him here.
So the dancers who represent the four seasons, for instance, come on and do more or less interchangeable duets, with nothing spring-like, summery, autumnal or wintry about them - and they keep coming back with more of the same all evening. Even the characters who you would expect to have strong individuality fail to show it: the stepsisters, the fairy godmother, even the heroine.
Consequently, the ballet lacks both fun and romance. The occasional bits that aim at comedy don't get much of a laugh, and as for the love story, you will have to look hard and use a lot of imagination to find anything moving or gripping. Even the charismatic Patrick Armand as the Prince in the opening cast could not achieve more than a temporary suspension of incredulity.
His Cinderella (four others are due to follow) was Larissa Ponomarenko: as smooth and fluent a dancer as you would expect from her Petersburg training, but too impassive facially most of the time to make as much of an impression as she ought. The rest of the cast was never less than proficient, but what they had to do held them back. Simone Clarke and Elisabeth Miegge as the stepsisters deserve credit for generating at least a sense of liveliness; Christopher Hampson's elegance as the dancing-master was sabotaged because his role just doesn't make sense, either in the implausible lesson he gives or in his inappropriate guest spot at the ball.
David Walker's designs are as dull as the choreography (be thankful for small mercies; at least they avoid the tacky extravagance of his Covent Garden Cinderella for Ashton's version). The tiny tot sitting in front of me with her ballet-critic mama looked bored all evening, and who could blame her?
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