[Review] Cinderella the Ballet at the Birmingham Hippodrome

David Bintley’s adaptation of Cinderella asks for reality to be left behind. A large lopsided clock dominates the stage as the audience take their seats – it is ten to twelve and time to dream.

At first Cinderella (Momoko Hirata) is barely noticeable, blending into the tall bland walls of her basement prison. She is tormented by her wide-eyed, black-cloaked Stepmother (Marion Tait) and boisterous Step-sisters, who are stripped of their traditional pantomime-dame qualities here, alternatively acting around the stereotypes of ‘Skinny’ (Samara Downs) and ‘Dumpy’ (Laura Purkiss) instead. They offer pockets of caricature comedy throughout the performance, whilst also self-referentially commenting on the demands of women to aesthetically please. The grimy, underground setting, with windows too high to see out of and too small to let in any light, provides the perfect backdrop to Hirata’s melancholy, and successfully transports the audience into her soon-to-be enchanted, and meticulously hand-painted, world.

A cloud of smoke billows out of the fireplace and this marks a transition into the magical.

A cloud of smoke billows out of the fireplace and this marks a transition into the magical. John Macfarlene’s set design embodies the mystical nature of night, with a pallet of indigo blues, wizard-cloak purples and sparkling stars that is reminiscent of early dawn. The majesty of this set, in combination with David Finn’s spectacular use of lighting to pinpoint and illuminate, convinces the audience to look forward to the possibilities of the night and the brightness of tomorrow.

The eagerly awaited transformation of Cinderella is depicted through the changing of the four seasons; the audience are blown away by the blustering winds of Autumn (Yaoqian Shang) and warmed by the gentle swaying of Summer (Céline Gittens) in a sequence that is boldly colourful and deeply enchanting. It is a shame that the glimmering glass carriage does not stay for longer in this section, but all is forgiven when Sergei Prokofiev’s composition takes us into the breath-taking ballroom dancing scene. It is an hour-long showcase of the astonishing talent of the company; the chorus are perfectly synchronized throughout and all aspects of the performance bind seamlessly together so that it is hard not to believe that magic is at work here.

The choreography is profoundly moving; the lovers float freely around the space as if compelled by romantic intuition,

Cinderella’s appearances in these later sections are almost spiritual, she is the shining star that Joseph Caley as the Prince is urgent to follow. The choreography is profoundly moving; the lovers float freely around the space as if compelled by romantic intuition, and guide and lift each other as if carried away by desire itself. It is refreshing to watch an adaptation of a fairy-tale that fully embodies the romanticism of the genre, especially at a time when it is becoming increasingly popular to mock true love and happy endings.

The Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Cinderella is a spell-binding masterpiece that has every member of its audience captivated from beginning to end.  The choreography is magical, the orchestra are enchanting, and the cast are a constellation of stars that get brighter the longer you stare.

The final performance at the Birmingham Hippodrome is on Saturday 25th February and it will then begin a four-day run at The Lowry in Salford from Wednesday 1st March.

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