“Satisfying”, that’s what I’d say if I only had one word to sum up Christopher Hampson’s Cinderella. If I had two words I’d bung a “Deeply” in front. I saw the company premiere of the ballet back in December (which Graham Watts reviewed for us) and thought then I’d like to see how the company settled into it by seeing the last show. As it turned out it was also the last time Eve Mutso, recently nominated again at the National Dance Awards, would be dancing as a member of the company – she is off to freelance and pursue choreographic ideas. Do read this great celebration and interview with Eve by Mary Brennan.
The last show turned out to be at the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness amidst high winds and dire warnings of total cut-off by road and rail. There was much snow around and the River Ness was running very fast and not so far off topping its banks. The kindly Hampson (who I declare as a mate) offered me a lift back to Glasgow the next morning and it was magical threading our way down the A9 through the Highlands, with snow flurries, icy roads and the odd car in the ditch! So often us southerners see the company in Glasgow, Edinburgh or London and miss the point that it’s a national company that gets out there to bring live ballet – traditional and modern – to the nation. Even though SB travel widely across Scotland, the average journey time the audience travel to see them in Inverness is 1½ hours, such is the tug of good dance. It might also be down to the tug of a good theatre too – the Eden Court is a modern custom-built performance space and the sight lines, particularly in the steeply-raked stalls are all good. Generous social space and easy parking too. Oh that it were nearer me or that there were more new theatres so thought about. The audience was a diverse mix of all ages including many youngsters and the place was packed – as it has been across the entire tour.
In looking back and summing up it’s useful to record the wider view: it’s not often that a company presents a new full-evening ballet and the critics give it a flurry of 4 and 5 star reviews. A breakdown to show I’m not stretching points here:
★★★★★ Scotsman, Herald
★★★★✰ Guardian, Telegraph, Independent, Arts Desk, List, Stage, Daily Record
At the time, DanceTabs were not giving star ratings, but I think our review of the premiere was 4 stars and I certainly call up 4 stars now for a life-affirming ballet. Graham Watts’ original review does much to set the ballet in context and I’ll not repeat what was said there. In many Cinderellas Cinders herself comes out pretty well, but it’s all the stuff around that can make one wince – most notably the Ugly Sisters. Hampson’s production takes a fresh look at the plot and puts the entire ballet in context with a prologue on the death of Cinderella’s mother – and stamps her enduring spirit across the piece in the form of a recurring rose motif. It’s more believable, as are the sisters, one bossy and the other sweetly simple and impressionable. There is some slapstick, in the panto tradition, but it’s all rooted in the real observation of life – the wretched Act 1 steps of the sisters in Ashton’s Royal Ballet version is a long way from this – thank goodness. The Prince character, like Cinders, is searching for something in life and when they finally properly discover each other, and their love, it ends blissfully under a rose tree in a shower of petals. Perhaps I should add “lovingly real” to my list of epithets.
Believable characters are the core of the production but you also get the Fairy Godmother and an assortment of Moths, Spiders and Roses to help nurse it along its magical way. Designer Tracy Grant Lord delivers the goods with a mix of clever painted sets and OTT exuberance, particularly in the costumes. It’s Grant Lord’s work, which makes such a success of the rose motif, that binds it all together. The Prokofiev score of course is peerless; full of depth and lightness by turns, it’s well realised by the company orchestra. What a shame that Prokofiev didn’t get to do more full-scale work for ballet than this and the equally well-known Romeo and Juliet.
So how was Cinderella looking on the company at the end of the Christmas campaign? The last night was the same cast as the premiere and it was all rather as you might suspect – it ran for the most part smoothly – it’s their ballet now and felt comfy and right. Who the stars of the ballet are is an awfully close-run thing with Eve Mutso and Sophie Martin both deliciously hamming up the sisters for laughs versus the real love of Cinderella and Prince – Bethany Kingsley-Garner and Christopher Harrison. Mutso (Tall Stepsister) dominates the stage, stomping over everybody and everything – an uncontrollable monster of a role. But Martin, as the short stepsister, quietly grabs your attention too, for her sweetly-daft asides and bemusement at life. It’s Cinderella’s story of course and Kingsley-Garner, still a soloist, brought much maturity to the narrative as well as nailing the technical aspects. Harrison does the noble Prince thing well – a quiet heart-throb, if at this show he had a nasty slip – it happens. I’ve not mentioned the choreography yet and that’s because it supports the narrative so well but without drawing hard attention to itself. It’s gorgeously classical, restrained and un-showy, but that nonchalance doesn’t come easy – no fudging here. There were also a couple of dancers on stage that I didn’t expect to see – Hampson and Rehearsal Director Oliver Rydout. Each of the acts in this Cinderella gets a rolling start with little cameo appearances by minor characters and here the artistic staff were a couple of old (very, very, old) retainers meticulously feather-dusting a ballroom chandelier and spot-polishing the floor. Delightfully bonkers and great to know that Tamara Rojo is not the only Artistic Director that is still dancing!
Come the end, Hampson strode out to say a few words about Eve Mutso’s departing and how lucky we all were to catch her last show with the company. And on came Eve’s daughter with flowers – a surprise entrance that for once Eve didn’t know about. Cue a standing ovation. Mutso is a wonderfully expressive dancer and we look forward to tracking her future exploits.
If Cinderella represents delightful and thoughtful tradition, the rest of Scottish Ballet’s year represents the pushing of the art forward, first with David Dawson’s new Swan Lake (in April) and in the autumn with a double bill of Crystal Pite (currently the hottest international choreographer of them all) and company dancer Sophie Laplane’s first main-stage commission. An all-female choreographers’ bill as it happens – all done without huff or puff.