Ballet Blitz as Cinderella wages war on convention

Cinderella did go to the ball - on a motorbike; the corps de ballet didn't wear tutus, but they did wear gas masks.

There have been many claims to be the new "new rock'n'roll" - comedy, cinema, even occasionally rock'n'roll. But now there is the most surprising contender of all: ballet. Last night at London's Piccadilly Theatre the radically innovative company Adventures In Motion Pictures (AMP) staged Cinderella.

There was Cinderella the ballet (excellent); Cinderella the T-shirt (price: a little more than a glass slipper); and Cinderella the pounds 70,000 themed first night party in Forties fashions at the Savoy (Prokofiev drink your heart out).

The contemporary dance troupe was led for this production by Royal Ballet stars present and past - the ethereal Sarah Wildor, dashing young icon Adam Cooper, and legendary mature icon Lynn Seymour. The story was set in the Blitz, with Cinders falling for a wounded RAF pilot.

The show was splattered with spectacle and, special effects and dazzling choreography from AMP's Matthew Bourne. The result: pounds 1m advance bookings at the box office, a young audience, merchandising a plenty and a full West End theatre.

For the present stars of the Royal Ballet watching from the stalls, there was a slightly bitter irony. They can see that for the best dancers, the audience-grabbing AMP (which featured all male swans and plenty of leather in Swan Lake last year) knows it will get the best by recruiting from the Royal Ballet.

But while their former colleagues played to a packed house last night, the Royal Ballet is currently losing the battle to fill the auditorium over at Hammersmith thanks to crassly misjudged management decisions by the Royal Opera House on where the company's temporary home should be, and choosing one lacking any claim to grandeur.

Perhaps, though, there is more to it than location. AMP has lessons for both contemporary dance (it always ensures there is a narrative to its works to help the audience) and classical ballet. Bourne is very much director as well as choreographer, whereas the role of director is curiously lacking in so much ballet.

While he never messes with the music or the essence of a classical story, he insists on drama - last night's ballet being set in the Blitz with its effects on the characters - and humour, such as Cinderella fantasising about her dream bomber pilot prince, and the real thing is too timid to give her a kiss.

And then there is the marketing. Katharine Dore who co-runs AMP has concentrated her marketing on a database of theatre- and cinema-goers and not the traditional ballet audience.

"There are so many people who don't consider going to ballet," she says. "They think it will be over their heads. But our work is so visual and we bring in an audiecne who go to cinema. There's been an immense sea change in what audiences want over the last couple of years. Audiences want to be challenged but the work has to be delivered in an accessible way."

AMP achieved that double objective last night, and the country's great classical companies will look at their box office figures and may now decide to mix more of the challenging and accessible with the time honoured and traditional.