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ENB Cinderella (Wheeldon) National Tour 2019

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I went to ENB performing Chrisopher Wheeldon's Cinderella in Manchester today (Saturday Matinee). Erina Takahashi and Joseph Caley were the leads. 


I have never been to a Wheeldon ballet before, and not watched the Royal Ballet televised productions of recent years. I must admit to a certain about of ignorant snobbery and prejudice towards this choreographer. Being a lover of the great classical ballet canon, I had a bias that it might be, (especially judging from the Cinderella promotional images) rather too 'Matthew Bourne-ish'  (again, I admit to being quite ignorant of Bourne too). The excellent reviews on this forum of this Cinderella (in the round, in the Albert Hall) encouraged me that it was worthwhile to go and see. Thank you Ballet Forum!


I found it was a splendid cinematic dance theatre with more than enough of the classical style to satisfy me. For sheer visual effect, it is impressive and sophisticated. The colours of the staging and costume are extremely rich and splendid, lustrous. I did wonder in some scenes if they crossed the line into garishness but they just stayed on the right side, I think. The varied effects are very striking, wonderful (I particularly liked the row of chairs levitating in Act III).


The choreography I found very interesting and often extremely pleasing. I loved the use of the male quartet of 'Fates' throughout. As with the other Cinderella I've seen (BRB Bintley) the Seasons dances are a highlight, and Precious Adam's leading Winter was probably my favourite. Perhaps some of the step sequences were a little 'busy', particularly in the (infrequent) solos, and I must admit I didn't find the grand pdd's conveyed the overwhelming emotion I thought they should have. The national dance section was again a little busy but I love this music and regret that it doesn't feature in the BRB version. But overall the dance was continually creative, impressive, surprising and consistently high standard. And I will admit that at the climax of Act II ballroom scene had me won over -  the way the corps formations drew the scene onto it's finale, and portrayed the ticking clock with their arms - I thought this was fabulous.  


The leads Takahashi and Caley were of course excellent and flawless, but I'm not sure their individual (or pdd) choreography was a sufficient vehicle for either of them to really enrapture or astound the audience. 


It looks like this production has sold extremely well, far better than ballet usually does in Manchester. 

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It was a pleasure to make the trip to Southampton on a very wet Thursday afternoon (24th) to watch a matinée full of débuts and to see an outstanding performance in the evening from a dancer who made her début the previous week in the title role of Cinderella.  This was the first time I had seen a live performance of the proscenium version of Christopher Wheeldon’s “Cinderella” and it suffered in comparison with the Royal Albert Hall version, relying as it does on theatrical effects rather than choreographic content, appearing cramped on the large Mayflower stage.  This was mainly due to only the front of the stage being used for various scenes to, I assume, accommodate all the technical machinery in other scenes, particularly noticeable in the Seasons which, although pared down to just the soloist and four attendants, brought the rather awful choreography into sharp focus, despite being danced with excellent precision and ebullience from all involved.  The stunning construction of Cinderella’s coach also lost impact from being confined to the small space and from a scrim being lowered halfway through, presumably for an unnecessary projection, so that it failed to win the spontaneous applause with which it was greeted at every performance I attended at the Albert Hall.  However, as always, ENB gave the performances in Southampton great energy onstage and in the pit and there was so much to enjoy despite my continued disappointment with the choreography.


In all the years I have been watching her, Alison McWhinney has never failed to enchant me technically or dramatically, and so it was with her début performance as Cinderella.  There is such a sweet lyricism to her dancing which makes her perfect for this put-upon heroine, evident from her firstly meltingly soft solo. However, it was a moment of non-dancing which I found the most moving of all.  Having sent the prince away the first time (when he and his friend have exchanged places to deliver invitations to the ball and he has dressed himself as a hobo), and her stepmother has cruelly burned Cinderella’s invitation, she collapses in tears over a chair.  But these were not melodramatic tears.  It was as if everything she has been through with her stepmother suddenly hits her and there was such a resigned feeling throughout her body which was absolutely heart-rending.  Then the prince returns to comfort her.  Aitor Arrieta, also making his début, is a natural prince with the most aristocratic of bearings.  What I have noticed with him as he has been given principal roles over the last couple of seasons, is that he has a wonderful ability to form an instant chemistry with his ballerina and this was most certainly the case at this performance.  When he invited Cinderella to dance with him on the table, there was a wonderful moment of stillness when they both looked into each other’s eyes and kept up this contact throughout this little dance.  Likewise, in the ballroom scene, it was obvious from the way their eyes met again that, despite the change of clothes and her mask, they instantly recognised each other and I loved the tenderness of their pas de deux.  What I like about this production is that the prince leaves it to his friend, Ben, to deal with all the ladies (and others!) wanting to try on the golden slipper and, as soon as they arrive at Cinderella’s house, he wants to know where she is as he knows this is where he will find her.  Again, their final pas de deux was magical because of the depth of feeling they both brought to it.  I am therefore very much looking forward to seeing them dance the Act I bedroom pas de deux together at the Dancing for a Dream gala in Woking in two weeks’ time.  Making his début as Ben was Henry Dowden, and he was well matched with Arrieta in their exuberant dances together, as both possess great style and lovely, soft jumps.  Of the other débuts, it was fun to watch Adela Ramirez, in recent years mainly given solos to which she always brings great charm, take on the role of the Stepmother.  Being so petite, it was fun watching her bossing about the much taller Cinderella and the prince (when she thought he was a good-for-nothing).  In the ballroom scene, her solo when she has drunk too much champagne was a great piece of comedy, helped by Daniel Kraus as her long-suffering husband. I loved the anxious expression on her face as she tried not to spill a drop of champagne as Kraus turned her in arabesque but by her raised leg rather than her hand.  When she had completely collapsed (another brilliant moment of a well-controlled backbend given great comic effect) and Kraus had dragged her back to the sofa, she immediately slipped off the sofa again into a heap on the floor and I loved the way Kraus had to lift her most unceremoniously back onto it where she proceeded to sleep off the rest of the scene in a drunken stupor.  In Act 3, the demented expression on her face when she takes a mallet and proceeds to try to hammer the slipper onto stepdaughter Edwina’s foot (another excellent comic turn from Jung Ah Choi in her début) was priceless!


In the evening, the performance was given an extra sparkle by maestro Gavin Sutherland bringing a touch of magic to Prokofiev’s gorgeous music, as befitted the totally magical Cinderella of Shiori Kase.  She is a dancer of such lyricism and musicality that the music seemed to flow throughout her whole body.  She also has the most wonderful ability to sustain a balance to the nth degree of the musical phrase, not so that it is a balancing act but so that it expresses great emotion which, throughout the performance was breath-taking.  She also has the ability to look completely vulnerable which was very touching, especially when in the clutches of monster Stepmother Hortensia (Tamara Rojo) and her mini-me Precious Adams as Edwina.  Her prince was Jeffrey Cirio who is perhaps less aristocratic in bearing than Arrieta but is most definitely a Prince Charming in the way he responded to Kase and their dances together were beautifully warm and tender but with a lovely sense of fun at times. His sense of fun was also apparent in his dances with Barry Drummond as Ben, who matched him in exuberance as well as in beautifully clean technique.  The lovely romance between Ben and stepsister Clementine was also brought into focus in this performance, with a lovely rapport between Drummond and Anjuli Hudson who also brought a touching pathos to the moments when she is being mistreated by Edwina.  After Ben and Clementine had danced together at the ball, I loved their little nod to “Giselle” when he sat beside her on the sofa and gradually nudged closer to her, to her delight and to that of the audience whose attention had obviously been caught by this charming pair.  At this performance, the opening scene touched me almost as much as it had at the Albert Hall, with Fabian Reimair bringing great depth of emotion to the role of the Father in that very small scene, especially after Cinderella’s mother had died.  And here, despite being performed behind a scrim, the lovely Angela Wood projected a beautiful sense of serenity as she ‘floats’ above her daughter, especially as the spotlight caught her face at exactly this moment.  I was also impressed with the young Cinderella of Bonnie Bradfield whose acting was very natural, especially as she clung to her father following her mother’s death.  Reimair continued to show his love for his daughter throughout in small ways, but the best was when he finally stood up to the monstrous Hortensia, stopping her from beating Cinderella with the ladle and she crumbled, although not for long as she was back in wonderfully demented mode to hammer the slipper onto Edwina’s foot before tossing it triumphantly into the fire.  I would also like to mention Jia Zhang who danced the Winter solo at this performance.  Her serenity and beautiful upper body movements and ports de bras were a joy to behold and most definitely took my attention away from the not-very-interesting footwork of the choreography.

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