After years of ballet lessons and going to see the ballet, it has been some time since I’ve been to big ballet production. I’d managed to buy tickets for the last night of Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella at the Birmingham Hippodrome and Saturday was our time to go. I quite often go to the theatre on my own, but this time had a friend in tow – she’s a non-dancer, so it was going to be interesting to hear her take on the show as well.
I’ve seen a couple of Matthew Bourne ballets in the past. The innovative and breath taking Swan Lake when it was first created – all male swans were a spectacle to see, and amazing to see the strength, power and beauty that the male dancers brought to the stage. And The Nutcracker, which wasn’t that far removed from the traditional story with a few twists and difference thrown in. I suppose you can’t mess too much with the Nutcracker when it’s a show that many families want to see as part of their annual Christmas traditions.
I’d not watched Cinderella when it was shown on BBC2 over Christmas, so I was a bit in the dark as to what to expect. I also never buy programmes anymore, so we were happy to just sit and watch the story unfold on the stage.
This Cinderella ballet is set in London 1940, with the backdrop of World War 2. Rather than ugly sisters, there’s a whole family teasing Cinderella, and excluding her from the dance.
Cinderella has a chance meeting with an injured RAF pilot, and then get separated by the blitz, only to have to find each other again with the help of a male angel – symbolising Cinderella’s guardian angel as well as overseeing death, a commanding performance from Liam Mower.
The set is brilliant and the costumes while dark in colour, showcase the 1940s styles beautifully, won Lez Brotherston an Olivier award for original design. Quite hauntingly, film clips and reports from the war are played in each part amongst the surround sound music from a 60 piece orchestra. It was strange being at the ballet with a recording rather than live orchestra – sitting nearby as a child I used to love watching the musicians play. But you really got a sense of being involved in the show, the way the music was around you rather than just playing from the front.
Cinderella isn’t the meek Cinders we so often see in films. While she’s pushed aside by her alcoholic stepmother, turned into a frumpy stepdaughter, she mimics them behind their backs, before getting hold of her invite to the Café De Paris. The luxurious Café de Paris is the scene of the dance, and Cinderella’s appearance in a more traditional Cinderella ballgown certainly draws your eyes over the wartime uniforms and darker dresses of the other women. She’s modern enough to accompany her pilot to his bed before they’re separated by a bomb, with Cinderella off to hospital and the traumatised pilot Harry searching the streets of London for her.
It’s pleasing to see them have their happy ending, leaving on a train together, while others are saying goodbye to their sweethearts for war. There is a happy ending as in the fairytale.
The dancing is wonderful, cleverly bringing touches of swing dance to the ballet. Even the pas de deux and solos aren’t your traditional classical ballet steps. The Prokofiev score works well with the war time sounds overlaid, and the plot makes you think of what it would have been like as a young person trying to continue to live under the danger of the time.
I’d definitely recommend watching out for future tours of this production. It’s one not to miss, even if you’re not a classical balletomane.
Have you been to see any dance performances recently?