The woman sitting behind me sighed happily at the end of each big dance number in English National Ballet's Cinderella. Michael Corder's production is tailored to show off the company as a classical troupe. It takes its time over the corps and magical scenes, surrounding the heroine with respectful tableaux. It is not inspired, but it is pretty.
Corder is a good academic choreographer. He tells the story in dance, and tells it clearly, defining characters with steps. There is much more to this Cinderella than, say, the steps-by-the-yard of Birmingham Royal Ballet's Beauty and the Beast. Dances are varied, neatly constructed and shaped to the music. Corder never quarrels with Prokofiev's score, though he does not catch its strangeness or sharp edges.
There is an invidious comparison lurking here. Frederick Ashton's Cinderella, made for the Royal Ballet and revived later this month, is great in ways that Corder cannot reach - in its brilliant, expressive classicism, its response to the darker urgency of Prokofiev's music, its odd dreamlike effects. Watching Corder's Cinderella, I keep remembering Ashton's.
In fact, so does Corder, who reacts against it in his own version. He restores music that Ashton cut and returns to the ballet's Russian libretto by casting the step-sisters as women rather than men. They are spiteful and vain rather than ugly, scolding Cinderella with wagging fingers and stabbing pointework. At the ball, their solos tell ballet jokes, the second sister dancing an imitation of romantic ballets like Les Sylphides.
The hero and heroine are less precisely characterised. These tidy steps are not radiant enough to embody goodness and beauty; that is left to the authority of the performers. Agnes Oaks is a graceful Cinders, polished in her classical variations and good at gentle melancholy. Thomas Edur is a romantic, serious prince, with elegant line, perfectly stretched feet and gorgeously steady turns. All the family scenes are danced without exaggeration. As the sisters, Simone Clarke and Sarah McIlroy dance brightly and do not overdo the spite. Jane Haworth is an elegant, steely stepmother. Michael Coleman, as Cinderella's father, gives a quiet, touching performance.
Corder is weakest in the divertissements. The restored national dances, danced as a nightmare vision for the prince, make this a very long evening. The duets for the season fairies have an odd lack of contrast, too much grappled partnering in all four duets. The corps were careful but not animated. Daria Klimentova, as the fairy godmother, has surprisingly little to do.
ENB has given more than 100 performances of this Cinderella. It is a solid, attractive version, and the company look fine in it: decent if not magical.
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