June 18, 2021
After their very modern-feeling Curated by Carlos triple bill the previous week, Birmingham Royal Ballet returned to traditional classical fare with David Bintley’s Cinderella. With it’s easy to follow narrative that’s full of light and shade, and super designs and staging (even allowing for the fact a few things were missing or cut down at the REP).
It helps having someone like Momoko Hirata in the lead role. In Act I, set in the family’s bleak, grey kitchen that rather feels it’s buried somewhere in the basement, she dances lightly and with a face that exudes warmth, despite her situation. Having her barefoot emphasises her position. Her duet with the broom is a delight. John MacFarlane’s dreary grey designs contrast stylishly with the boldness and colour of the later ball. Having Cinderella in a similarly drab dress that looks years old adds to the realism and suggests she has known happier times.
In the preparations for the ball, Dancing Master Tzu-chao Chou may get all the best steps, but it’s Lachlan Monaghan’s Dressmaker that constantly catches the eye. He buzzes and fusses around like Joe Lycett on whimsy overload. He could do with a Sewing Bee contestant or two to help out, though. Esme would have a few things to say, one suspects.
But then the stars sparkle, fantasy and reality collide and Cinderella is off to the ball in Macfarlane’s fantastical frog-hauled coach. It’s very difficult to convey the feeling, but when Hirata arrives, she really does look like she has walked into a dream.
She has a great relationship with her prince, César Morales. From the moment her casts eyes on her, he’s smitten. They dance together seamlessly. The pas de deux at the ball is a dance made in heaven.
Elsewhere, the Prince’s friends (Chou, Monaghan, Callum Findlay-White and Kit Holder) are full of great leaps and turns as they dance with super lightness and togetherness.
At the REP, we sadly do not get to see the mechanics and slowly turning cogs of the clock in all their glory, although the simple black and white face works well, especially when set against the colour of what has been happening in front.
They way the two stepsisters, the appropriately named Skinny and Dumpy, spend as much time bickering with each other as they do teasing and tormenting Cinderella rings true. Ellis Small and Karla Doorbar play to two roles to the full. The difficulty comes with the way Bintley opts for over-the-top characterisation and slapstick humour that removes all feeling of meanness or vainness. Even more problematic is that it’s rarely funny (although I did smile at Skinny attempting to pole dance with Major Domo’s staff at the ball), and with Dumpy especially it makes for uncomfortable watching. Am I the only one who feels it looks like she may have some sort of learning disability?
Laura Day gets it spot on as the icily cool Stepmother. She has clearly been taking lessons from Marion Tait who made roles like this her own.
But back to the story, which ends beautifully, the dreary cellar melting away to leave Cinderella and her Prince to dance exultantly against a chorus of dancers in glistening tutus, before walking away quietly, arm in arm. Beautiful; and at a time when we need some escapism from the uncertainty that surrounds us, just right.
Birmingham Royal Ballet are at the Birmingham REP with David Bintley’s Cinderella to June 26, 2021. Visit www.birmingham-rep.co.uk for details and tickets.