Cinders shines through the Blitz

Matthew Bourne's Cinderella

Birmingham Hippodrome

*****

I DON'T know. You wait ages for a Cinderella and then two come along at once.

The Hippodrome has seen two very different versions of the folk tale in almost as many months with the Birmingham Royal Ballet world premier at the end of last year followed by Matthew Bourne's updated story at the start of this.

It is a remarkable tribute to Prokofiev's score that David Bintley could use it for a stunning traditional ballet setting of the fairy story, albeit with some darker moments, while Bourne could transpose the tale to London in the Blitz with bombings, terror and devastation. The music felt at home in either production.

Bourne's version is his most lyrical creation so far – if you can say lyrical about dance. Well I did, so there. But Bourne's productions are not just about dance, he has a remarkable eye for detail and I defy anyone to watch one of his shows and spot everything on one viewing. In crowd scenes no one stands and watches so you have too much to take in around the fringes of the action whether it is the schoolboy sneaking drinks while the rest of the cast dance or the bandmaster at the Café de Paris collapsing blind drunk behind his piano deep in the background.

Lez Brotherston's set, as always, is magnificent with a screen showing wartime newsreels, stunning graphics and walls that slide, vanish, lift and explode under an onslaught of German bombs. They seamlessly create an affluent living room, streets, a tube station, the Embankment, the Café de Paris nightclub and the devastation left after bombing all with the orange glow of a burning city beyond the gas holders, presumably at the Oval, on the horizon. The Café de Paris, incidentally suffered a direct hit in 1941.

The production is awash with homage paid to wartime films with the final scene unmistakably a tribute to Brief Encounter complete with the station clock and tea room while the nightclub scene does have a touch of Busby Berkeley about it in some of the routines.

Not a Shetland pony in sight as Cinders vanishes to the ball in her coachstyle sidecar with her guardian angel

Bourne's Cinderella first lost her shoe, so to speak, in 1997 when it had a mixed reception but 13 years on and it has been reworked, refined and relaunched into what is a modern dance masterpiece.

Everyone knows the tale of Cinders with her rotten stepmother and stepsisters and in this case stepbrothers. Here in the Blitz the prince becomes a wounded hero, a shot down, injured fighter pilot.

As there is lashings of Hollywood kitsch and a tribute to 1940s movies it should come as no surprise that Cinders has tightly pulled back hair, grey frumpy clothes, thick stockings and glasses. We all know what that means. When her hair is released and the glasses are removed she will be a real stunner and so it proves in the hands, and feet or course, of Kerry Biggin who is a wonderful dancer in the part with a mix of grace and vulnerability.

Her stepmother is Italian Michela Meazza who danced so seductively as Lady H in Dorian Gray and here adds a sinister, peevish side to her charms but even as a baddy she is still a delight to watch.

The fairy godmother has been give the boot in favour of an angel, all silver suited and platinum haired looking a little like a sort of Rhydian Roberts tribute act.

I have no idea if Chrisopher Marney can sing but I will bet my house and yours that Rhydian cannot dance in the same galaxy as the sublime Mr Marney whose role in turm owes much to Marius Goring as Conductor 71, the angel  in the 1946 classic A Matter of Life and Death.

The Angel might not deal in pumpkins and mice but like the dear old FG he does see it as his mission in life to look after Cinders, righting wrongs against her and giving her a bit of glamour and happiness.

Up to no good in her high heeled hat - Michela Meazza's stepmother is up to mischief in A&E

If it is wounded pilot Harry she wants then it is wounded pilot Harry she shall have  - give or take a couple of hours to justify buying a ticket.

And, bandits at 12 o-clock and all that Harry, complete with handlebar moustache, flies effortlessly around the stage thanks to Sam Archer who creates the empitome of the dashing dancer.

If you want to be picky then the piece is not perfect. The opening scene setting is perhaps a little long although you could forgive anything in act one for the brilliant dance with the tailor's dummy.

The second act in the night club loses its way at times while the final act, like the first, seems a bit too much music for the amount of story but with such magnificent music you're not going to complain too much.

Again the final act is lifted by imaginative use of a line screens in the hospital which are moved around the stage with a life of their own to create rooms, wards, corridors – whatever is needed.

Nor do the minor failings detract from what is a brilliant concept and execution of an idea by Matthew Bourne who is one of the top directors and choreographers in the world let alone the UK. This might not be his most stunning work but it is his most accomplished and rounded and shows a maturity of his phenomenal talent.

It has some great dancing, an easy to follow story well told, a little romance, some pathos, drama and sadness and no small amount of humour. It even ends with Glenn Miller - what more could you ask as you don your tin hat and pick up your gas mask case for the journey home.

Prokofiev, incidentally, wrote Cinderella in 1943 in Kazakhstan where he had been evacuated from Moscow away from the war front. The date and circumstance of its creation was the seed which created the idea in Bourne's mind of setting the piece in the Second World War.

The melodious, stirring and at times sad and tender music could easily have been written as much about the war raging around Stalingrad and Moscow as about a tale of a poor girl abused by her step family.

At the Hippodrome we have been lucky to see both visions shine within weeks of each other. To 19-02-11

Roger Clarke 

 

Two shows for the price of one

 

CINDERELLA will face some competition on Thursday, February 17, when 14 BTEC dance students from Walsall College (seen right rehearsing)  will perform a specially choreographed piece, created by 18 year old Ruth Seager of DanceXchange's Making Choreographers programme in a collaboration between DanceXchange and the Hippodrome.

The students will perform their five minute piece at 7.30 with Matthew Bourne's Cinderella following immediately afterwards.

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