Cinderella may be an old tale, but there are always ways to make it new. English National Ballet (ENB)’s production of award-winning choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s version of Cinderella recently enjoyed a successful in-the-round staging at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
Now the production’s been returned to a more traditional staging at the Palace Theatre in Manchester, allowing audiences outside of London to catch Wheeldon’s interpretation for the first time.
Wheeldon’s Cinderella draws on the realms of dark fantasy, driven by Sergi Prokofiev’s iconic score. Instead of relying on the fairy godmothers and pumpkins of the traditional fairy tale, this Cinderella finds her life transformed by the enormous tree that sprouts out of her mother’s grave, and four Fates who trace Cinderella’s footsteps.
The production’s tone is set by Julian Crouch’s fantastic set and costume design, as the stage is filled with foreboding stone fireplaces, grand palaces with extravagantly dressed royals and a romantic night sky exploding with fireworks. Basil Twist’s stunning puppetry design adds the necessary magic, while the ENB’s philharmonic orchestra gives life to Prokofiev’s rich and famous score.
Erina Takahashi’s Cinderella has a minimalistic grace, conveying boldness but also vulnerability in her movements. She shares charming chemistry with Joseph Caley’s charming Prince Guillaume, whose role is more fleshed out than in other versions of the tale.
This leading pair are supported by the fantastic physical comedy of Cinderella’s stepmother Hortensia, played with gleeful menace by the ERB’s artistic director Tamara Rojo, and the two stepsisters Edwina (Alison McWhinney) and Clementine (Katja Khaniukova), who are more spiritually than physically ugly yet never fail to raise a smile.
Wheeldon’s choreography is enchanting and fluid, as it balances moments of serene beauty with stunning set-pieces. It’s in its big scenes where this production particularly impresses, such as the climactic ball in Act 2 which revolves around a series of individual set-pieces bulked out by the entire ensemble cast.
Perhaps Cinderella’s most impressive achievement is the stunning sequence at the end of Act 1 where Cinderella is transformed by the spirits of the four seasons underneath the tree. Whipping up a whirlwind of green, red, yellow and blue, the dancers encircle Takahashi before a carriage is spirited out of nowhere. It’s a memorable moment, and a testament to what can be achieved with clever, imaginative staging.
Never afraid of cracking the odd childish joke, the production sometimes falls back on tropes more common in pantomime. It’s a reliable way to get laughs, but not always befitting of a classy production like this one.
Even so, Wheeldon’s Cinderella is a spellbinding production that serves as a fantastic introduction to ballet’s wonders for those who’ve never been persuaded by it before. It’s a testament to English National Ballet’s skills in their 70th anniversary season and will make anyone feel that they too can go to the ballet ball.
Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella is at the Palace Theatre, Manchester from 17-19 October and the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton from 23 – 26 October. You can find the best Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella tickets right here at TickX.