My First Cinderella
London, Peacock Theatre
26 March 2013
It’s interesting reviewing shows created for small kids. What’s particularly wonderful is seeing so many small people in the audience, often having a wondrously great time. But there is also a conundrum in how you review the show – do you try and put yourself in the position of a six-year-old, do you record what 6-year-olds around you think or are you a parent looking at the way teachers are trying to engage with kids about something you love. I’m going for the latter but happily put on record that a theatre full of 4 to 8 year old girls (mainly, and with lots of tiaras and tulle in evidence) seemed thoughtfully and happily to enjoy themselves. They do, though, have short attention spans – instant hits are entrances in wonderful costumes, but any scene which goes on a bit too long without variety seems to have their eyes wandering around – though never becoming boisterous or silly.
I didn’t see last year’s My Sleeping Beauty but I did see the earlier English National Ballet (ENB) children’s show Angelina Ballerina. That used ENB’s own dancers (and was a huge hit), whereas this year’s My Cinderella uses ENB School students and has a narrator – Jane Wymark, better known to many as Tom Barnaby’s wife in Midsomer Murders. It’s a young affair choreographically also, with George Williamson only three years out of school himself. Keen as mustard, he was appointed an Associate Artist of ENB by Tamara Rojo last year.
I found the show a mixed bag – if more hit than not. Great that it’s shortened to 2 acts for this audience, has simple but good-looking touring sets, wonderful costumes and that there is some pretty choreography in it. All good classical stuff. The ugly sisters always seem to pose a problem in Cinderella – they are hard to set, witness Ashton’s troublesome pair which sink the first act of his famous Royal Ballet production. Williamson rather struggles as well – they don’t really have much by way of distinctive choreography and are often reduced to pulling contorted faces. At the ball they do their joke dances with the Jester character but there should be much more fun and silly capering. The narrative, scripted by Wymark and Williamson, also seemed to be overly intrusive and to needlessly explain what was clearly happening – so knock on the door and the narrator says “There’s a knock on the door”. I’m not against narration though and the device of the narrator being a pastry cook (queue nice cook’s costume) works. It was particularly good at the start in setting the scene re the loss of Cinderella’s mother etc.
The student dancers set a good example in coupling the dramatic action to clear dancing. Alice Bayston was a particularly fine Summer with much control and musicality and Diego Cardelli bought likable character to the tailor/wig-maker role. Two other boys also caught the eye – Mlindi Kulashe as the Prince – infectiously happy (think The Cat character in Red Dwarf suddenly finding himself in the Gucci stockroom) and well on top of the big princely moves and, even more of a technical whizz, Matthew Koon as the Jester. If you are going to say it all with steps, that’s the way to say it.
As I say ultimately the kids on the afternoon I was there had a good old time. But I’d like to think that something where the steps assume greater significance will show little people even more of the joy of dance.
22 June 2013: Some images have been removed at ENB School’s belated request.
This comment was originally posted on our ENB2 Gallery entry page. With a review up it is better to keep words together. DanceTabs.
Second among ENB2’s My Firsts …, Cinderella repeats the mistake of last year’s Sleeping Beauty. The absence of speaking characters is the oddest aspect of ballet for new audiences, perverse then to burden these stagings with a narrator.
In Beauty it was not just Aurora put to sleep by the soporific Jane Wymark as narrator nurse. Wymark returns as narrator cook, seemingly related to Sybil Fawlty (“specialist subject the bleeding obvious”) relentlessly talking over the music, underlining what we have just seen.
Prokofiev felt no need to punctuate his percussive score for each new arrival in Cinders’ kitchen. Here, Wymark announced – ever so relentlessly – each caller who came a-knocking. (We were left to quietly wonder why fairy godmothers do knock but princes do not).
Come on English National Ballet – trust ballet to tell a story – and trust your audience’s powers of comprehension. As in Sleeping Beauty, the dancing itself in Cinderella more than commands the attention of a young audience. Perhaps the point is not to educate new audiences but to give stage experience to students from English National Ballet School. They look more at ease here than amid the hierarchies of Beauty.
Producer George Williamson bypasses the longeurs that usually make the first scene so off-putting. Aged four, my first Cinderella was a panto. I did not gravitate to ballet until a decade later when Frederick Ashton’s version did much to turn me off ballet. Williamson’s staging captures the essence of the story – but wittier material and more seasoned step-sisters would give the story more bite.
Without a carriage or a staircase to descend, Cinderella’s arrival at the ball nods to David Bintley’s version – where Daniela Oddi’s radiance suggested every girl’s dream. Mlindi Kulashe was a commanding prince though Prokofiev’s best tune is lost in an extended dose of “she’s behind you” as he searched for Cinderella – but only an old man would grump about that.
Williamson’s ballroom choreography hints at Ashton, with its missed meetings. Some smudges aside, Kulashe and Oddi were grandly authentic in their big duets. The ensemble, particularly the men, when their dancing was allowed to speak for itself, delivered Williamson’s inventive, classical steps with panache. If ballet must have a jester, then Matthew Koon is your man – a gymnast.
I attended as school where appreciation of the creative arts was as important academic disciplines, thanks to the founding spirit of the Leverhulme family, so all credit to The Leverhulme Trust now for supporting My First Cinderella. These youngsters are ahead of me. Audiences for ballet need to be caught at a young age.
But I am not convinced that ENB2’s anaemic My First… versions are the way to go. Ashley Page’s Cinderella for Scottish Ballet – ballet retold for non ballet-goers – had much more theatrical verve and audience appeal. Ahead of Le Corsaire, I hope ENB reconsidered the format before My First Pirate.
For now, this shoe will go on. Oh yes it will.
I think the previous comment was a bit harsh. Did they watch the ballet accompanied with young children (who are the intended audience)? I was in the audience today with my 3 and a half year old and felt the narration hit just the right note. It was not intrusive, and served to keep my daughter focussed when she could easily have lost concentration. It also meant that I had to answer a lot less “what/who/why” questions than I would have otherwise had to! Well done everyone concerned for a wonderful performance!
I went to Woking to see My First Cinderella with my Grandaughter aged 7, who sat transfixed through tthe wole performance.
It was absolutely stunning, a tiny hint of panto, a narrator and fabulous dancing.
I am 70 years old and have never experienced anything like it. Thank you.
Daniela, I am so proud of you!