Scottish Ballet brought the fairy tale magic of Cinderella to The Festival Theatre Edinburgh tonight and, as always at this time of the year, with their classical ballet performance, it is the one sure sign that Christmas is not that far away.
This production of Cinderella is a little bit special to Scottish Ballet though as it was devised by their artistic director, Christopher Hampson for Royal New Zealand Ballet in 2007, and brought to wider Scottish and European audiences to much acclaim in 2015. Christopher Hampson is also the choreographer of this magical re-imagining of the classic fairy tale, and set and costume design by Tracy Grant Lord with lighting design by George Thomson all combine magically with the music of Sergei Prokofiev to weave a magic spell of wonder on-stage for audiences young and old alike.
In this production of Cinderella, primary colours are coming from everywhere out of the darkness with billowing ball gowns taking everyone to a magical world of colour, music and dance. This is Cinderella with more than a few twists to the usually presented fairy tale and ballet, as here we are given some depth to Cinderella’s life as we open (before the curtain rises, so be early) at her mother’s funeral and shortly after watch her plant a rose at her mother’s grave. Life has changed, and not for the better for Cinderella as her father has re-married and he is struggling still to come to terms with the loss of her mother and struggling financially to pay for the extravagant lifestyle of his new wife and her two daughters (all three of whom despise Cinderella for being everything that they are not), selling off family possessions in the process, including Cinderella’s beloved portrait of her mother. In this world of low light and despair, Sophie Martin is wonderful as Cinderella, and from the first moments of her appearance on stage, the audience is pulled into her world. This “darkness” is contrasted by the brightness of colour in a woodland that owes much to art nouveau design with its flowing organic shapes. It is here that Cinderella meets her fairy godmother, danced by Araminta Wraith. This fairy godmother though has been dressed in couture perhaps by Norman Hartnell and stepping out of the darknes into the light could so easily be stepping out from the front cover of a Norman Parkinson fashion magazine photo-shoot. Silk moths, spiders, roses and of course a grasshopper also come magically to life in this enchanted wonderland.
In Act 1 we meet all of Cinderella’s main family; stepsisters – short (Kayla-Maree Tarantolo) and tall (Grace Horler), step-mother (Marge Hendrick) and father (Christopher Harrison). For principal dancer Christopher Harrison, this is very much an out of the main spotlight role, but as always his ability to breathe life into his characters is a joy to watch, and of course any moment with Sophie Martin as the two of them are a wonderful match on stage. Setting the comedy, and almost at times pantomime stage for humour that is to flow throughout this story are our short (Kayla-Maree Tarantolo) and tall (Grace Horler) step-sisters. Both Kayla-Maree and Grace get this difficult comedy timing just right both in dance and mannerisms. Presiding over the household, Marge Hendrick as the step-mother infuses more than a little bit of Joan Crawford into her role and dance here.
Some people I talked to found the pacing and introduction to Cinderella’s life a little slow in Act 1, but for me, it is beautifully set up both in choreography and story to prepare us for the contrast in brightness and spectacle of the ball that Cinderella arrives at Act 2, and of course the meeting with our fairy tale Prince danced tonight by Barnaby Rook-Bishop, and judging from this performance, we are going to be seeing a lot more of his talent in the coming years with Scottish Ballet.
This ball is full of life, humour and again wonderful costumes from an era of style and elegance, a world which our yellow (short) and pink (tall) dressed step-sisters are all too ill-equipped to be at, but they both do it in wonderful “bad taste”.
Sophie Martin as always is a joy to watch in any role, and here, combining deceptively effortless technical skill with an ability to at times appear almost weightless on stage gives everyone the fairy tale Cinderella at the ball that they expected. Adding to this, a very good on-stage relationship with our Prince, Barnaby Rook-Bishop and the setting was set for a perfect “fairy tale” ballroom scene.
All fairy tales of course have to end and a lovely twist to this story is that it is the rose that takes centre place here in our Prince’s search just as much as the glass slipper.
In a world of choreography full of grace, fluidity and homage to classical ballet, Christopher Hampson has also created many moments of comedy full of wonderfully timed dance and movement that combine to create a unique and magical work and world on stage. A few people I talked to thought that at times we strayed a little too much into the world of pantomime rather than ballet, but in a world where ballet can at times take itself a little too seriously, for me, Christopher Hampson got the balance just right on this one.
A special mention too here for Jamiel Laurence in his twin roles as Dancing Master and Grasshopper.
This is a production where you can imagine every little girl (and some not so little) wanting to be Cinderella and heading off to their nearest ballet classes in the coming days. I can also imagine many of the boys in the audience deciding that they are going to the ballet studio too and perhaps dreaming of joining “Les Trocks” one day.
Christmas is we are all told a magical time of the year, and that magic has certainly started with Scottish Ballet and Christopher Hampson’s take on Cinderella.
Review by Tom King