Northern Ballet’s Cinderella Let Down by Indifferent Score

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Philip Feeney, Cinderella: Northern Ballet, Northern Ballet Sinfonia / John Pryce Jones, Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 23.3.2013 (SRT)

David Nixon (Choreography, Direction & Costume Design)
Patricia Doyle (Associate Director and Original Scenario)
Duncan Hayler (Set Design)
Tim Mitchell (Lighting Design)


When I saw that Northern Ballet were doing Cinderella, I naturally assumed that they’d be dancing to the score by Prokofiev.  I was interested, though not disappointed, to see that, in fact, they were dancing to a new score by Philip Feeney and was all set for a new experience.  However, the score turned out to be more of a problem than an asset, and it was at the heart of the problems in what turned out to be a pretty bland evening.

 Feeney’s score is problematic because it falls between a number of stools.  What, after all, is a contemporary ballet composer to do?  Does he go down the old-fashioned route of numbers with big tunes, or does he go down the more allusive route of contemporary suggestion?  Feeney opts for a middle way that ends up failing to hit very many targets.  The end result is suggestive rather than tuneful, creating atmosphere and evoking moods in tune with what is happening on stage, somewhat like film music.  There are melodies, yes; but they lack power and memorability.  The finest come for Cinderella’s big scenes: her solo dances alone in the kitchen work very well, especially one with a solo flute towards the end of the first act, and her dance for the prince at the start of the second act is also very evocative.  Elsewhere, though, he relies a little too much on “stock” elements, such as the character dances at the start of the second act, and, more dangerously, the melodies lack bite and staying power.  He uses some fairly standard orchestral techniques to evoke mood and place, such as the tinkle of bells for winter, or the occasional balalaika to set up a Russian dance.  There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but some of the orchestral effects to accompany the “shock” moments in the story (such as the death of Cinderella’s father) are arrived at so suddenly as to feel a bit naff.

 The vanilla nature of the score tended to rub off on the other elements, too.  The choreography is effective enough in telling the story, and the most successful elements are the two pas de deux danced by Cinderella and the prince at the ball and at the very end for the recognition.  Those shows a lovely feel for two bodies working in harmony and gliding in a rhythmic pattern that really works.  Elsewhere, though, the dancing is rather too reliant on spins and “Russian” gestures, and some scenes felt much too long, especially the crowd scenes at the market place and at the castle ball.  Duncan Haylor’s sets are mostly clever and effective – the icy lake, in particular, and I liked the room concealed within the giant invitation – but the opening lacks energy, and the set for the market scene looks too much like a school pantomime.  One of the show’s main problems, however, is its lack of concision.  Too many of the scenes, especially those involving crowds, feel like unnecessary padding, with little to intrigue the eye and less to move on the story.

 All told, then, I greeted this evening with a bit of a shrug, and I couldn’t help but reflect on some of Northern Ballet’s recent work in Edinburgh (a good Great Gatsby, a so-so Beauty and the Beast) and compare it to some of the great work I saw them do when I was a student in Edinburgh.  I particularly remember a Giselle set in a WW2 ghetto.  That was something to make me sit up and take notice and to re-engage with a work I thought I knew.  Has the company recently lost its radical streak?

 Cinderella continues on tour until November 2014.  For details, see here.

Simon Thompson

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