Dancing in the Moonlight

David Bintley‘s new Cinderella for Birmingham Royal Ballet opens with a funeral: Cinderella’s mother has just died and we get a glimpse at the woman who is to become her stepmother. As she consoles Cinderella’s father her two daughters gaze at our young heroine. Fast forward many years and we see an older Cinderella now curled up in a grim kitchen, a dark and threatening backdrop cleverly designed by John Macfarlane to create the mood for a series of scenes in which the stepsisters and the despotic stepmother torment and abuse her.

Elisha Willis as Cinderella and Artists of The Birmingham Royal Ballet in David Bintley's Cinderella. Photo: Bill Cooper / BRB ©

For those familiar with Ashton’s 1948 version for the Royal Ballet the question was: how would David Bintley frame his Cinderella? Early on during the creative process Bintley had indicated he did not want his heroine to be overshadowed by the stepsisters (in Ashton’s version they are very prominent panto dames) so the first big difference here is that he characterises them as real bullies. They remain dancing parts and are used as effectively for drama as for comic-relief (watch closely for a homage to Ashton when they are dancing about in the kitchen after the ball in Act III), while the mean, cane-wielding stepmother (played by the amazing Marion Tait) and her benevolent opposite, the Fairy Godmother  (Andrea Treddinick), are character parts.

Left: Marion Tait as the Stepmother. Photo: Roy Smiljanic / BRB © Right: Carol-Anne Millar as Dumpy. Photo: Bill Cooper / BRB ©

On the matinée I attended Nao Sakuma gave a heartfelt performance as the barefoot heroine, fully conveying Cinderella’s suffering and unselfishness. She cherishes precious mementos of her mother, a photograph and a pair of shiny ballet slippers but is prepared to part with the latter to comfort the beggar woman who will, surely enough, turn out to be the Fairy Godmother. This is where the magic starts and we get the ultimate ballet makeover, complete with mice, lizards, pumpkins and silvery tutus followed by a big ballroom scene of lavish settings and beautiful dancing by the Birmingham corps.

The Ballroom Scene from David Bintley's Cinderella. Photo: Bill Cooper / BRB ©

A great strength in this production is Bintley’s knack for designing patterns and imagining steps for the ensemble. Contrastingly, the fairy variations and the main Pas de Deux are not quite as enthralling as in Ashton’s choreography. While lovely, the latter falls slightly short of the magic and wonder conveyed elsewhere in the ballet. It doesn’t help that Matthew Lawrence‘s elegant prince does not get much time in which to establish a rapport with his Cinderella, but the main issue here is that Bintley does not always connect steps to what Prokofiev’s score may suggest. In that sense his and Ashton’s versions seem like polar opposites, the Pas de Deux being the centerpiece in one; characterisation and atmosphere in the other.

Artists of The Birmingham Royal Ballet as the Stars in David Bintley's Cinderella. Photo: Bill Cooper / BRB ©

At midnight enchantment fills the stage once more. A giant mechanical clock dominates the scene and Cinderella is soon back in rags at the dark kitchen, wondering if everything was a dream. But not for long, of course. The Prince returns to save her and the ballet ends with a dreamy Pas de Deux danced under the moonlight, in a scene that perfectly rounds off this atmospheric production. Even if this is not your definitive Cinderella, the magic touch of Bintley and Macfarlane is sure to wow audiences for many Christmases to come.


Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Cinderella continues at the Birmingham Hippodrome until 12 December 2010. Cinderella will also be performed at London’s Coliseum next year (March – April 2011).

For more information and booking visit the Birmingham Royal Ballet website or the dedicated site Creating Cinderella.

Cinderella will also be broadcast on BBC2 on Christmas Day. Further information on the BBC website.

Her favourite ballets feel like good books – one can see them 1,000 times and they always feel fresh. Linda loves Giselle, all full-length MacMillan plus Song of the Earth, Robbins’s Dances at a Gathering, Balanchine’s Serenade and Agon, Ashton’s Scènes de Ballet and Symphonic Variations.

6 Comments

  • [...] Birmingham Royal Ballet – Cinderella review [...]

  • [...] of A Folk Tale. A few days before my trip I had revisited BRB’s new Cinderella which I had much admired last year. Bintley’s new production is designed to attract a wider public without ever compromising on [...]

  • January 5, 2011

    Kizzy

    d(^_^) I saw this on tv on Christmas day, and quite liked it. The costumes were beautiful, and atmosphere wonderfully mysterious and magical (>.>) though everyone in the family faffed off and left me to watch it alone XD they tolerated some of it whilst eating, but didn’t stick around to watch anymore once they’d finished the meal.

  • December 29, 2010

    Bonnie

    Great postures, good costumes and overall performance was outstanding.

  • December 25, 2010

    Mrs L Evans

    I thoroughly enjoyed your production of Cinderella and found it far superior to the Sadler’s Wells performance I saw two weeks ago. Matthew Bourne managed to make the story quite boring and dull at times with far too much mime and not enough dancing whereas your dancing and costumes were beautiful and the performance had pace, humour and excitement. In future I will look to Birmingham rather that Sadler’s Wells.

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by The Ballet Bag, Moonbootica. Moonbootica said: RT @theballetbag: New post in the bag: our thoughts on @BRB 's new, very atmospheric production of #Cinderella http://bit.ly/hNKHbw #bal … [...]