Most years, around this time, the outlook for dance is predictable.
It'll be Nutcrackers everywhere you look. But this season it's different. Tchaikovsky has been kicked into second place by Prokofiev – specifically Prokofiev's 1940s ballet, Cinderella.
The Royal Ballet has revived its classic version with choreography by Frederick Ashton. Scottish Ballet is bringing back Ashley Page's, complete with spectacular arrival at the ball by hot-air balloon. Matthew Bourne has reworked his own reworking that relocates the story to the London Blitz. Was it something in the air, a response to the fiscal crisis, or a yearning for stringency and darkness, that made David Bintley in Birmingham plump for Cinderella too?
Deciding the look and feel of an expensive new ballet production must be a bit like Kate Middleton choosing the dress for that engagement photo-op. Those pictures, that ballet, are going to be doing the rounds many years from now. They are going to have to withstand the fickle winds of fashion. They must have child appeal, granny appeal, corporate appeal, everyone appeal.
So, Bintley has played safe. As designer, he chose the man who'd given the company's Nutcracker its classy gloss. No messing around with the score or the story, either. This is Perrault's 18th-century take on it, with stomachers and powdered wigs and itinerant dancing masters with fiddlers in tow (the period's version of Strictly, in its way).
John Macfarlane's designs are strikingly true to Prokofiev, too. Sombre and monochrome in the opening scenes, in response to the plangent harmonies, Cinderella's kitchen is uniformly the colour of faded plaster, as is the girl herself. Later, the stage-picture deepens in tone to glamorous midnight-blue and plum. An extended waltz for the corps in silver tutus bedecked with 3D stars is dazzling in all the right ways.
In the transformation scene, children especially will enjoy the frog and lizard coachmen, and the mouse ladies- in-waiting, with their realistic heads and tails poking out of their clothes, a nod to Ashton's Tales of Beatrix Potter. But I'm not sure there was a lot else for the very young here, given the down-playing of the step-sisters.
Rather than Ugly, Bintley styles them Dumpy and Skinny, leaving the latter (the moderately lean Gaylene Cummerfield) not a lot of comic rope to play with, and the former (a game Carol-Anne Millar) straining to make the most of her size in a not-very-fat suit. Did Bintley fear to offend porkers in the audience by going all the way?
Playing down the panto element leaves more scope for pathos, and Bintley maximises this in the solos for his little kitchen drudge – barefoot, pale and fantasising ballroom trysts with a broomstick, though with Elisha Willis we get no sense of her journey from girl to woman, and Iain Mackay's Prince is simply a smooth-moving hunk. There is real cruelty, though, in Marion Tait's purse-lipped, wasp-waisted stepmother, and the siblings' taunts which end in bruisingly realistic brawling.
There were two, maybe three occasions on opening night when clock-time seemed momentarily suspended. Most of these hit-the-spot moments are due to the magnificent playing of the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, under new director Koen Kessels. The suave glitter of Pro-kofiev's writing is given layered depth and sweep.Pianissimos sustain the merest thread of sound, to utterly bewitching effect.
To 12 Dec (0844 338 5000) then touring. Due to be broadcast on BBC2 over the Christmas period