Erina Takahashi and Joseph Caley in English National Ballet’s Cinderella (c) Laurent Liotardo
English National Ballet
Palace Theatre, Manchester
Until Saturday 19th October 2019
Created for Dutch National Ballet back in 2012, and revived now as part of English National Ballet’s landmark 70th anniversary celebrations – which included a revised, in-the-round staging of the work at London’s Royal Albert Hall earlier in the year – Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella presents a rather different take from the Charles Perrault/Walt Disney versions most will be familiar with, so those looking for a classic Cinderella complete with all the traditional fairy tale elements may find themselves a little disappointed.
Taking inspiration from the Grimm Brothers’ much darker rendering of the tale, Aschenputtel, though of course omitting the more sinister parts, Wheeldon’s inventive production replaces many of the conventional aspects, most notably the Fairy Godmother, and makes some interesting character adjustments, fleshing out the character of the prince to add greater depth to his background and persona, and moulding his eponymous heroine into a stronger, feistier and more dignified character than the powerless, put-upon servant girl we usually see.
For the stepsisters, Wheeldon opts for ugliness of character over physical appearance, and interestingly depicts one of the stepsisters, Clementine, as kindly and sympathetic towards Cinderella, though bullied into following suit by her unpleasant sister Edwina. Another notable changes see Cinderella’s father kept alive and wrapped around the finger of Stepmother Hortensia, who for the most part seems oblivious to his wife’s treatment of his daughter.
Wheeldon’s Cinderella is ultimately driven by a sense of earthly magic and a mother’s enduring love, with the Fairy Godmother here replaced by Four Fates that watch over Cinderella from childhood, as well as a chorus of ethereal earthly spirits that emerge from a tree sprouted from the tears dropped on her mother’s grave.
However, for all its enchantment and innovation, there are elements that prove more successful than others, and Wheeldon’s production saves almost all its main thrills and spectacle for a superb act two and a cleverly staged act three – complete with an elegant Pagan finale around the symbolic mother tree – which unfortunately renders a sluggish act one a little too dull and lacklustre by comparison.
A very strong cast including Erina Takahashi as Cinderella, Joseph Caley as Prince Guillaume, Jeffrey Cirio as the Prince’s childhood friend Benjamin, ENB’s Artistic Director Tamara Rojo as Hortensia, Alison McWhinney as Edwina, and Katja Khaniukova as Clementine make short work of Wheeldon’s simple yet elegant neoclassical choreography and demonstrate outstanding technique and excellent character work, though some do find themselves bogged down by a few too many predictable jokes and unnecessary sight gags.
There is a great deal to admire about this inventive take on such a well-trodden classic, there are some nice twists and Prokofiev’s rich, melodious score sounds as glorious as ever, though for all its high points there are a few too many moments that underwhelm and the overall production often lacks attack and vigour outside of the key ensemble sequences.
Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes (approx.), including two 20-minute intervals.
Final Performance at the Palace Theatre, Manchester: Saturday 19th October 2019.
For more information, and to book tickets, please Click Here.
N.B. As part of ENB’s 70th anniversary the company are celebrating and thanking its touring communities by giving away 70 tickets during each run of performances in every city they tour to. During their performances in Manchester the ballet company has gifted tickets to staff from local charities and organisations including Talbot House, Mustard Tree, Frost Foundation, Lifeshare and Teenage Cancer Trust/Christie Hospital. English National Ballet will also give a ‘Golden Ticket’ for a special English National Ballet experience or piece of merchandise to one audience member per performance in Manchester.