It’s generally struck me that the “problem” with Cinderella as a ballet is the (Ugly) Step-Sisters. Ballet is a refined and often nuanced and suggestive way of showing intent and emotions but the terrible sisters are gross, painted big and demand comic acting of the highest order. Often the choreography is slapstick, but the idea or timing is awry and it can all feel a desperate damp squib. In many versions of Cinderella I don’t think I’ve ever seen a brilliant telling of the sisters and laughed out loud in the way one would really wish. But Christopher Hampson’s version for Scottish Ballet (originally created for Royal New Zealand Ballet in 2007) has believably silly movement, and the cast I saw at the first performance of this year’s Christmas touring season are the best ugly sisters I’ve ever seen – take a bow Constance Devernay (short) and Aisling Brangan (tall).
— Constance Devernay (@BalletCoco) December 8, 2018
Sadly Scottish Ballet don’t have any pictures of Devernay and Brangan in performance as the Step-Sisters.
It’s not only that they individually have brilliant comic timing, it’s also that their interactions with each other and others are honed to perfection – honed movement and honed acting. And they are in character all the time, little glancing asides, private thoughts flash across their faces even when they are not the centre of attention. Just too delicious. For many years Hampson did the dance for Raymond Gubbay’s Johann Strauss Gala tours – a toe-tapping show often with humorous dimensions and which needs to deliver to a diverse audience; and all that experience, plus coaching and the innate ability of the dancers has really informed the comedy in Cinderella – all concerned know what they are about. And for us in the audience, freed of nagging thoughts like “that didn’t really work” etc, the whole ballet can really take off.
Hampson’s Cinderella works with the plot we know but builds in the backstory of both Cinderella and the Prince each looking for their true love – something is missing in their lives. In this version the ballet also starts with the death/funeral of Cinderella’s mother, the source of her misfortune, and the planting of a rose in her remembrance. The rose is a running motif through the ballet and it’s beneath the rose that their final and enduring love is sealed at the end. It works well. Taking the lead roles were Bethany Kingsley-Garner and Christopher Harrison and a believable pair they made – nothing flashy or ostentatious here, just solid classical technique supporting generous, heart-tugging, stage action. For flashiness you had to look at Luke Schaufuss as one of the Prince’s Friends – a stage magnet with big hair, big jump and serious attitude.
The only quibble I have is with the start of act 3 which is opened by a group of hard-working Royal Shoemakers. Although the plot obviously centres on footwear, this rather felt like a bit of a filler. But things soon change and we get a dream-like line of female spotlit legs (just the legs!) – think relaxed Tiller Girls, legs all working in unison – it’s unexpectedly enchanting and puts the focus back on the slipper and dancing. And the Ugly sisters trying on the slipper is most wittily done too. As a package the Scottish Ballet Cinderella is the best I know of – just sit back, relax and enjoy the mix of great story telling, dancing and some of Prokofiev’s best music. It’s in Edinburgh until the 30 December and then tours to Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness and Newcastle.