In a winter full of Cinderellas, David Bintley's new production for Birmingham Royal Ballet is a winner. It's a confident Christmas ballet, with gorgeous designs, sure pacing and a touch of real pathos.
Bintley – BRB's director and chief choreographer – uses Prokofiev's dark and glittering score, handsomely conducted by the company's new music director, Koen Kessels, and stresses the everyday hardship of Cinderella's life. John F Macfarlane's sets range from a bleak kitchen, the barefoot heroine slaving at a chilly sink, to a smoky, visionary ballroom.
The stepsisters – one fat, one thin – are vicious bullies. Bintley has good jokes for them. In the dancing lesson, Gaylene Cummerfield's Skinny is an over-eager teacher's pet, while Carol-Anne Millar's Dumpy sweats resentfully through the exercises. Marion Tait's elegant Stepmother is superbly cruel. I love the moment where she tries on a blonde wig for the ball: surface ditz, with steely malice shining through.
The magic scenes are splendid. The fire flares up to reveal the fairy godmother, disguised as a beggar woman. Macfarlane's coach, brought on by mice and lizards, gleams with frost. When midnight strikes, a whirr of clockwork looms over the stage.
Bintley creates fluent steps for his characters. His duets are over-complicated but the corps dances are atmospheric, with fine, courtly touches. Elisha Willis is a sweet if slightly colourless Cinderella; Iain Mackay a tender Prince. Momoko Hirata stands out as the Spring fairy.
This Cinderella has heart as well as spectacle. Seeing the disguised godmother's bare feet, Cinderella gives away her most prized possession, her mother's slippers. What's wonderful is that she has a moment's struggle with herself first. Fairy tale heroines should be compassionate; the reluctance makes Bintley's Cinderella real, and infinitely more touching.
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