United Kingdom Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Home from Home – Cinderella: Dancers of Birmingham Royal Ballet, Royal Ballet Sinfonia / Koen Kessels (conductor). 2010 performance from the Birmingham Hippodrome reviewed as a live stream on 25.8.2020. (JO’D)
Choreographer – David Bintley
Music – Sergei Prokofiev
Designer – John Macfarlane
TV Director – Ross MacGibbon
Cinderella – Elisha Willis
Prince – Iain Mackay
Stepmother – Marion Tait
Skinny – Gaylene Cummerfield
Dumpy – Carol-Anne Millar
The Fairy Godmother – Victoria Marr
Available free online (click here) for seven days from 25 August, David Bintley’s 2010 production of Cinderella brings Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Home from Home series of streamed performances to a close. Designer John Macfarlane dresses the ballet in rather cold, rather dark colours that reflect those present in Prokofiev’s 1945 score. That is until the very end, when the nerve-jangling, tick-tocking climax of the Waltz at midnight gives way to a lyrical, tender, gold-infused finale.
As choreographer, David Bintley skilfully draws on a knowledge of ‘story ballets’ of the nineteenth century (La Sylphide, Coppélia, The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker) to combine the kitchen-sink drama of Cinderella’s unhappy home life with a magical world of fairy godmothers, carriage-pulling reptiles and rodents, and the workings of a giant clock. When Cinderella (Elisha Willis) makes her entrance to the palace ball, it is not in any sumptuous gown but as a classical ballerina in tutu and on pointe.
Her sisters ‘Skinny’ and ‘Dumpy’ (Gaylene Cummerfield and a padded Carol-Ann Millar) are not only ‘ugly’ in their treatment of Cinderella, but also in their deviance from classical ballet’s bodily norms. They, too, go to the ball in tutus; but Skinny wears tights with horizontal stripes of black and white, and Dumpy has a beehive. Not that either of them appears at all concerned about being the travesty of a ballerina as they mimic, in their solos, the ‘Fairy of the Golden Vine’ and the ‘Lilac Fairy’ (from The Sleeping Beauty). Skinny is as much interested in the Master of Ceremonies, whose staff she uses for pole-dancing, as in the Prince (Iain Mackay); Dumpy cares mostly about food.
Part of the pleasure in watching this performance from ten years ago is seeing dancers in smaller roles, or in the corps de ballet, whose careers have since then progressed, or they may have now moved on. Currently an English National Ballet Lead Principal, in 2010 Joseph Caley was one of four gentlemen dancers at the ball. The Royal Ballet principal, Alexander Campbell, was another. Delia Matthews has just this year retired from the company; Céline Gittens, now a Principal, then another dancer in the ballroom; and William Bracewell, currently a First Soloist at The Royal Ballet, not performing an arabesque of indescribable beauty centre stage, as he would go on to do, but an aproned workman leaning against a wall.
Neither Elisha Willis nor Iain Mackay are dancers with the company now. This is a welcome record of their partnership, their apparent confidence in each other as dancers. If she is slightly more credible as Cinderella in the kitchen than as Cinderella in the ballroom, it is a credit to her skill as an actor-dancer: the motherless, barefoot girl making a partner of a broom. He is a tall and munificent prince, as likeable and bon prince on stage as he was off it when I once sat opposite him, by accident, at a table in the Sadler’s Wells café. It will be interesting to see who takes these dancers’ roles when the production tours the UK in 2021, something for which this recording certainly whets the appetite.