Ringing the charms at midnight

Rags to riches: Elisha Willis as downtrodden Cinderella, barefoot in the dingy kitchen. Pictures: Bill Cooper

Cinderella

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Hippodrome

****

CAROL-Anne Millar probably managed one of the worst ballet performances ever seen under the BRB banner.

Her timing was terrible and she managed all the elegance and finesse of a drunken pig in a gale. Oh, and, er, yes, did I mention she was quite brilliants at it.

Dancing badly is not hard – most blokes even wear it as a badge of honour – but dancing badly and doing it well rather than . . . well badly . . .  that is something else and Millar as Dumpy, the more substantial of Cinderella's two horrid stepsisters, turns it into an art form.

She is even better at being wort than in the ballet's premiere two years ago in a role she is rapidly making her own.

Wearing a fat suit to boot she slouches around the stage with a sort of flat-footed indifference, only really coming to life during the Prince's ball when a servant arrives with a display of iced buns – which with Dumpy, the food Hoover around, is taking your life into your hands.

She is rivalled in the dancing badly stakes, badly well that is if you see what I mean, by Samara Downs as step-sister No 2, Skinny, who even gives us a pole dance on the Major Domo's (Rory Mackay) staff. Demure is not in Skinny's repertoire.

The pair dance delightfully badly with all the elements and steps on display but not necessarily in the right order as Eric Morecambe might have put it – and getting it wrong after years of striving to get it right takes a lot of practice

Their scene with the posing Dancing Master (Mathias Dingman) leaves you full of awe at their dancing which is . . . awful. Even when they get it right they manage to make it look wrong.

Flying Buns: Carol-Anne Millar as Dumpy with a triumphal leap after grabbing a passing Mr Kipling king size.

I suppose we are supposed to dislike the pair, that is how we are conditioned in our fairy tale upbringing, but they gave us plenty of laughs and enjoyment so the hearty cheers they got at the end means that that bit of the plot went up in smoke.

Mind you the whole plot has been moved away from the world of panto and choreographer David Bintley's vision is more Grimm than Disney.

Bintley, the BRB's director, opens the ballet with a funeral as Cinderella's mother is laid to rest and we first catch sight of her future stepmother and step sisters in the cemetery gloom – just in case you might have been expecting any look out behind yous.

The traditional tale unfolds with Cinders (Elisha Willis) ill-treated by step-mother and sisters and finally denied an invite to the Prince's ball, the heart of the fairy tale.

Cinders is left as part of the furniture as dancing master, wig maker and hairdresser all arrive to make Skinny and Dumpy suitable for a Prince – thankfully they realise the task is beyond mere mortals, give up and present their bills or the first night could have run into New Year.

Back at the fairy tale, Cinders has helped out an old lady, who just happens to appear by the fire in the kitchen, as they do. She has given her food and even given the old lady the treasured pair of he dead mother's shoes she keeps hidden in a box.

By a happy coincidence the old dear turns out to be Cinder's fairy godmother which means she shall go to the ball.

Marion Tait gives us an elegant, heartless stepmother while the excellent Victoria Marr does not really have much chance to show off her talents as the fairy godmother apart from giving the role some presence. Perhaps her dress could also have had a bit more sparkle with fairy dust to stop her looking like Miss Havisham.

A frog coachman (James Barton) leads his lizards and mice pages in readying a coach for Cinders to climb aboard and away we go.

Iain Mackay gives us a dashing, elegant Prince and I am always amazed at the strength he shows in lifts – you wouldn't want to get into an arm wrestling contest with him – and his dances with Elisha Willis are a delight.

Willis manages to give us a vulnerable Cinders in rags who blossoms at the ball and positively glows at the end after the Prince finds her foot fits the slipper she had left behind at the ball.

Cinderella and her Prince with Elisha Willis and Iain Mackay as the clock ticks on towards midnight

In The Nutcracker, BRB's more traditional Christmas offering, the big special effect is the growing Christmas tree, here it is the huge mechanical innards of a clock with moving cogs and wheels which glide in from each side to fill the back wall and then counts off the time with moving hands to midnight with Cinders then vanishing off into the workings.

It is two years since we had the world premiere and there have been subtle changes and evolution to smooth edges and polish scenes with the result a simple ballet with a strong storyline which can be enjoyed by adults and children alike – which is what you want at Christmas.

As always at BRB the lighting, by David Finn in this case, enhances the performance adding an extra dimension while the design by John MacFarlane is impressive from costumes to sets which look solid as houses yet glide up or away seamlessly to create a new scene all without interrupting the music or movement.

Down in the pit – where, incidentally, the orchestra no longer have to cope with a stream trickling through their midst since the new stage was installed – the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under Koen Kessels, were in sparkling form with the Prokofiev score.

Personally I think The Nutcracker has the edge as the harbinger of Christmas but Cinderella runs it a close second and with another season under its glass slipper is surely set to become another BRB favourite. To 09-12-12

Roger Clarke 

Meanwhile winding the clock . . .

****

THE arrival of master choreographer David Bintley's Cinderella is a pre-Christmas treat for ballet lovers and any newcomers to this art form.

Performed to Prokofiev's music it is certainly no pantomime, blessed with wonderful dancing by the BRB, stunning lighting effects by David A. Finn, dramatic scenery and sumptuous costumes.

Having said that, this ballet is bless with a generous helping of humour, mainly provided by Cinderella's step sisters who are more nasty than ugly. Their performances at the palace ball as they attempt to 'hook' the handsome prince are a hoot.

Samara Downs (Skinny) and Carol-Anne Millar, playing Dumpy with a cleverly padded costume, have to produce some extremely skilful movements as they flit in and out of the elegantly dancing guests....especially when Dumpy is chasing the cakeman at the same time!

Elisha Willis is a delight as Cinderella who escapes the bullying of her stepsisters in the drab kitchen of her home and eventually wins the prince, beautifully played by Iain Mackay.

The scene where, at midnight, Cinderella dashes from the ball through the revolving cogs of a giant clock, is breath-taking.

While Cinderella will never eclipse the magnificent Nutcracker, it is, nevertheless, a superb production, with the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, conducted by Koen Kessels, in exceptional form. To 09-12-12.

Paul Marston 

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