Pamela Hawkins, aged 12, as Cinderella in rehearsal in BRB's studio. Pictures: Paul Telfer
Birmingham Royal Ballet
THE dream came true for 65 youngsters and one very much young at heart Fairy Godmother in a delightful world premiere performance of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Cinderella.
This is the culmination of six months of hard work by the 65 young dancers – and one septuagenarian - from around the Midlands, a cast chosen from more than 150 enthusiastic amateurs who auditioned for the BRB department of learning project.
Those selected, aged from eight to 76, had different levels of training, some ballet, some dance, but all shared the same dream of appearing in this version of Cinderella on the huge Hippodrome stage.
David Bintley’s modern classic has been adapted as has John Macfarlane’s wonderful scenery; gone are the sweeping staircases – excited eight year olds running up and down unfamiliar steps carrying perhaps, too much risk of creating its own, unwanted drama.
The ballet has had a few of the more complex dance scenes shortened or removed but directors and former BRB dancers Rachel Hester and Jenny Murphy, who adapted the ballet, along with project manager Rebecca Brookes, another former BRB dancer, have retained much of the original along with large elements of Bintley’s choreography, which was designed for a leading professional company remember – all adding to the challenge. And the youngsters rose to it magnificently.
Leading the way was 12-year-old Pamela Hawkins as Cinderella. A former pupil at BRB’s associate Elmshurst Ballet School, she left to train nearer to her Banbury home. She has a grace and poise that belies her age with that ability, seen in the best of dancers, to make it all look so natural and easy. Pamela Hawkins - remember the name.
Equally impressive were Maddy Abraham, 15, and Alicia Bennett, 17, as the stepsisters. Bintley’s vision is much darker than the panto Cinders we are familiar with. It opens with the funeral of Cinderella’s mother and the stepsisters are mean and sadistic to the young Cinders.
Dreams young and old: 12-year-old Pamela Hawkins as Cinderella and 76-year-old Ilona Johnson-Gibbs as the Fairy Godmother, gracefully fulfilling a lifelong ambition
Maddy and Alicia took that on board bringing a wickedly nasty peevishness balanced with some lovely touches of humour and no shortage of ability to their roles.
Cinders also got it n the neck from her stepmother, a haughty, mean, darkly elegant performance from Kathryn Sharratt.
There were delightful performances too from soloists Grace Owen as Spring, Katie Trow as Summer, Chantelle Meyers as Autumn and Charis Constantinou as Winter, surrounded by younger blossoms, leaves and snowflakes. All mature beyond their years.
The production incorporated a sort of little and large corps de ballet, with 18 older girls as lead stars and 16 younger dancers as mini stars and despite having 34 inexperienced dancers on stage it never looked cluttered or confused, was danced well, and co-ordination and synchronisation was generally spot on, showing a lot of work by both cast and choreographers.
Lead male was Jordan Kelly who started as the father at the funereal opening being promoted to Master of Ceremonies in Act II, where he had to cope with the Prince hunting stepsisters at the Royal Ball, then cope with them again in Act III, with some nice touches of humour, in the hunt for the foot to fit the glittering slipper left behind as Cinders fled from the ball as midnight struck on the huge clock filling the rear of the stage.
All the while in the background we had the Fairy Godmother, making sure Cinders’ future was bright, played gracefully by Ilona Johnson-Gibbs, a former model, now aged 76 and back in ballet lessons, achieving her ambition to appear in a grand ballet, a mere 72 years after she first fell in love with dancing and dreamt of being a ballerina.
The Prince was played by BRB’s Lachlan Monaghan while, in a clever switch, Cinderella was not only transformed into her posh frock by the Fairy Godmother but into BRB’s Karla Doorbar as well. That’s what you call real magic!
The two rising BRB first artists danced the two pas de deux in the ballet, and danced them quite beautifully creating a pairing which seems full of potential and one to watch for the future.
There was lovely support from a scurrying band of mice and frogs along with assorted dressmakers, wigmakers, milliners, hairdressers and cobblers, pages, courtiers, minor royals and aristocracy in an entertaining performance packed with both talent and enthusiasm, and all to Sergei Prokofiev’s sweeping score.
It might have been an amateur cast, with two notable exceptions of course, but they created a very professional show - a huge credit to themselves and the production team behind them.