Cinderella

Choreography by David NIxon
Northern Ballet
Leeds Grand Theatre
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“Cinderella”—arguably the world’s most beloved rags-to-riches story—has been adapted four times for Northern Ballet over the last five decades. To kick off their half-centenary celebrations, choreographer and director David Nixon has chosen to revive his 2013 production set in imperial Russia, which will be followed by Kenneth Tindall’s Geisha and Drew McOnie’s Merlin next year.

The “Cinderella” myth has endured for thousands of years and exists in nearly every culture across the globe, albeit with numerous variations. Generally speaking, however, audiences are most familiar with Charles Perrault’s version of the story, which was published as Cendrillon in 1697.

For the most part, Nixon’s version (co-conceived with assistant director Patricia Doyle) remains faithful to the fairy tale as we know it, but there are some notable changes. Some of these are rather effective, such as the idea that the wicked stepmother, Countess Serbrenska (Antoinette Brooks-Daw), resents Cinderella (Dominique Larose) because she blames the latter for the death of her beloved husband: this adds an unexpected level of psychological depth to their relationship.

Less successful is the decision to have the Prince (Riku Ito) spurn Cinderella when he finds out that she is merely a servant. Despite a romantic reconciliation between the young lovers on a frozen lake, I rather hoped that Cinderella would wind up with her “fairy godfather”, the Magician (Matthew Topliss)—although the fact that this performer also played her father at the beginning of the production would have made this union rather troubling.

Despite some slight misgivings about the show’s ending, Cinderella marks yet another top-notch production from Northern Ballet, combining visual spectacle with vivid storytelling and captivating performances.

As always, Nixon’s choreography makes the storytelling crystal clear and allows the performers to convey their characters’ innermost feelings. Highlights include the stunning pas de deux between Cinderella and the Prince at the ball and a wonderfully detailed sequence in which the ensemble pretend to skate on an ice-covered lake.

Dominique Larose brings great expressiveness to the title heroine, as does Rachael Gillespie as her younger incarnation. Antoinette Brooks-Daw powerfully conveys the stepmother’s cruelty through her rigid physicality, and Helen Bogatch and Ommaira Kanga Perez are delightfully vain as Cinderella’s obnoxious stepsisters.

Having excelled as a grotesque vampire in a recent revival of Dracula, it was a pleasure to see Riku Ito play an altogether more dashing character as the Prince. Also impressive was Matthew Topliss, who brought great exuberance to the role of the Magician.

The rest of the ensemble do wonderful work in a number of supporting roles, including servants, market sellers and circus performers. The addition of a stilt walker, a juggler and multiple acrobats adds considerably to the overall jollity of the production.

Duncan Hayler’s sets are well designed, particularly the ballroom which resembles a giant Fabergé egg, and they are further enhanced by Tim Mitchell’s versatile lighting. The costumes, designed by David Nixon and created by Julie Anderson, are a feast for the eyes.

Nixon has eschewed Prokofiev’s famous score for one by Philip Feeney, and the results are mostly favourable. Moreover, the score is played with spirit by the Northern Ballet Sinfonia.

While not quite in the same league as the company’s tremendous revival of The Nutcracker from last year, Cinderella is nevertheless an enchanting show.

Reviewer: James Ballands