Birmingham Royal Ballet
28 November & 5 December and 20012
When David Bintley’s Cinderella premiered 2 years ago I was much pleased by what I saw. It seemed a production with a great deal to commend it and nothing to sink it, such as the wretched Ugly Sister characters in the first act of Frederick Ashton’s famous production for the Royal Ballet – they seem to drain me of good will for life and I feel like kicking puppies. In Birmingham we have a production that allows you to revel in both the dark depths of the Prokofiev score and in the convivial joys of a happy ending.
Two years on and, while I might be a little more picky about this or that, I still think Bintley’s production is the one I’d prefer to see above others. There is wonder and the cosmos running through it but it’s suffused with real characters too and also some classy pantomime fun, noble ideals and love.
The Ugly Sisters are particular delights – one tall and thin, the other fat: they look impossibly ill-assorted and unlikely to ever find a match, so self-centred are they. The Dumpy one is wonderfully realised by Carol-Anne Millar, who now seems to sport a modified fat suit that is more realistic and looks just right. Samara Downs skinny sister has a bit more intelligence but still doesn’t get life. Marion Tait is the stepmother straight from hell – like an imperious Joan Collins in Dynasty. Grotesques they may be but they pick up real human nature which is why we enjoy them.
But Cinderella is properly at the core of this production and a strong character to boot. She puts up with much, constantly skivvying for the family, but she does fight back when it matters and one senses that her decency will find a reward. There is a real character here too. John MacFarlane’s designs still look good and the basement Kitchen is particularly well realised, as is the ballroom. Some of the costumes, notably for the stars, perhaps seem ‘cheaply’ glitzy, but there is cleverness going on – they seem to glow as if full of little blue LED bulbs.
The Fairy dances are also well realised, as animals (Lizard Footmen!) accompany them and build up to Cinderella’s being ready for the ball. The Fairy solos aren’t as impressive as Ashton’s but the scene as a whole is much more integrated into the story. And the drama is beautifully paced – there is always something happening and no part of the story really seems to outstay its welcome. Rare.
I wanted to catch some rising stars in the lead roles and went to two matinees, both chock full with a mixed audience of the young through to old – just as it should be. The couple I knew least were Mathias Dingman, First Soloist, and Maureya Lebowitz, a Soloist who joined from Royal Winnipeg Ballet last year. Of course what you want to report of debuts is that a new star has been ‘discovered’ and the Director went out and promoted them straight away to Principal. Its very, very unlikely, as is the converse of absolute disaster. No, most do fine enough, as it was with Lebowitz and Dingman. He came over as a little young as Princes go, unfortunately rather accentuated by having an unruly hair day. But he can jump very well and he did take care to look after his partner, which is always good. Lebowitz, rather petite, also has a good jump. Dramatically I always feel for dancers who join a British company from overseas – we put such emphasis on acting in our ballets and it takes a while to come to terms with it. But Lebowitz looks a spunky dancer, who went for it, in a ballet with lots to go for.
Earlier I caught a paring I was more aware of – Delia Mathews (First Artist) and Tyrone Singleton (First Soloist). Every time I see Singleton I come away impressed and wondering why he is not a Principal. That said, most of the time I see him he is in princely roles and I can’t really speak for his wider versatility. But as a Prince he continues to impress with his calm authority, nobility and immaculate execution of steps. All that and a good haircut. Delia Mathews impressed us all with her Royal Ballet School performance in 2007 and I was glad when she joined the company in 2008. Tall, slender, she has a fleet elegance and is warmly musical. Her movement is generous and unhurried and it felt as if she had danced Cinders a good few times before – but has not. Her acting was nuanced and the feeling of a deep power for good within her character came over. Here is a Cinders who all would say,”Well it couldn’t happen to a nicer person” come the end. I hope she is given other major roles and soon. As a young partnership she and Singleton really are exceptionally good.