Ballet stars quit for Blitz 'Cinderella'

'Too safe' Royal's dancers are finding more adventurous work, writes Elizabeth Redick
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The Independent Online
The man who gave Swan Lake an all-male cast is to give another classical ballet a novel twist, by setting Cinderella during the Blitz.

Matthew Bourne, whose all-male swans caused a sensation in London last year and is now playing to packed houses in California, is to do away with the palace of the traditional fairy tale and make the hero an RAF pilot.

Bourne, director of the innovative ballet company Adventures in Motion Pictures (AMP), says that there will be no drag roles in the production, due to open in October in the Piccadilly Theatre in London's West End. But the traditional Fairy Godmother will be replaced by a male "guardian angel, a Wings of Desire figure, a double-sided persona who both protects Cinderella, and presides over London as an angel of death."

Although Bourne will not divulge all the plot details, it seems likely that Cinderella and her pilot will meet in an air-raid shelter, and stay together just long enough to fall in love before being parted in the nightmare of the bombing. They will dance together in an eerie, bombed- out ballroom devoid of the usualcolumns and long flight of stairs.

The glass slipper becomes a blue 1940s high-heeled shoe, but exactly how it will be lost and found is a closely guarded secret.

Speaking from Los Angeles,Bourne indicates that his Cinderella will be losing much of its traditional sweetness and light.

"Prokofiev wrote the music during the Blitz and beneath its lyrical surface there is a dissonant tone," he says. "The ballet will have a film noir feel, contrasting the grimness of family life during the war with the glittery escapism of the ball."

With a cast of more than 30 dancers, Cinderella's family will be enlarged to include two sets of twins, their lovers, and a step-father. Lynn Seymour will continue her work with Bourne to create the role of a "Joan Crawford style stepmother".

As significant as the new production itself, though, is that two of the Royal Ballet's most talented young stars, Adam Cooper and Sarah Wildor, have left their classical home to work with Bourne's experimental company.

Cooper will be working full-time with AMP, following his success in the lead of Bourne's Swan Lake, and Wildor has taken a leave of absence to create the role of Cinderella.

The couple danced together only once at the Royal Ballet, in Sir Kenneth Macmillan's story of a girl's coming to womanhood, The Invitation, and Cooper is eager to dance with Wildor and introduce her to AMP's creative environment. "It's wonderful to be involved in the production from its inception, both in terms of building the story and choreographing the steps," he says. "It's rare these days, especially in London, to have a role created on you and it's going to be a wonderful change for Sarah.

"The Royal Ballet is a great company but it's really lacking in creativity at the moment. They are playing it so safe, it's ridiculous. I pity the dancers that have got to dance the repertoire over the next two years."

Wildor's departure occurs at a difficult time for the Royal Ballet. It is not only leaving its London home for a series of venues while the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, is rebuilt; it has recently been criticised for being fearful of change, and hiding beneath the veneer of its glorious Fonteyn and Nureyev past.

With no resident choreographer for the first time in its history, dancers are seeking artistic challenges elsewhere.

Last year Viviana Durante took a year's leave of absence to freelance and act, dancer-choreographer Matthew Hart left to join Rambert Dance Company, while Darcey Bussell almost landed the Hepburn part in a remake of the 1954 film Sabrina Fair.

This year Errol Pickford and his wife Benazir Hussein have left for Australia and the departures of Cooper and Wildor, who has been dubbed as the company's next Ashton ballerina, will also disappoint audiences.

Although it is not unusual for dancers to work with new choreographers and directors, so many departures will put additional strain on a troubled company about to embark on a two-year season without a home.