Forget the Disney version, Northern Ballet launches its 50th anniversary year by sharing this beautiful retelling of the story of Cinderella. With a score composed by Philip Feeney, this ballet was choreographed and directed by David Nixon OBE in 2013. Set in Imperial Russia, the production tells the story of a young girl, hated by her stepmother who blames her for her husband’s untimely death. When Cinderella finally escapes from the house, she is enchanted by the freedoms enjoyed by performers at a winter market and by skaters on a frozen lake, where she also meets a magician who is to change her fortune forever. There are many recognisable elements within the story too; two stepsisters who seem to have everything Cinderella dreams of, and of course the glass slipper, which is lost as Cinderella flees the Prince’s ball.
The costumes for this production, designed by David Nixon and Julie Anderson, are stunning and cleverly combine traditional Russian elements with contemporary style. The Magician’s costume and Cinderella’s gown for the winter ball took my breath away. The attention to detail on those costumes was incredible and I am sure I wasn’t the only person in the auditorium coveting Cinderella’s glittery silver pointe shoes. Beyond those stand-out pieces, the whole colour palette, combined with the clever lighting of the set, really helped to build the impression of each of the characters. Unfortunately, the set itself felt a little clunky – with the exception of the crystal lake – and in places seemed to interrupt the flow of the ballet rather than contribute to it, and it didn’t help that you could hear the hydraulics whenever a piece of the set was moved.
Despite that, the movement on stage was exceptional, and I loved the choreography throughout. Drawing inspiration from classical Russian ballet, as well as contemporary ballet, the dancers easily drew me into their world. I particularly enjoyed the ice-skating scene, and I was impressed by how accurately the choreography reflected the moves that you would normally see on the ice. Not to mention the dancers’ ability to slide across the stage en pointe; the workshop session for that scene must have been quite fun! The acrobats and other performers at the winter market also added an extra layer of skill and entertainment to the company that I really liked.
Abigail Prudames as Cinderella and Rachael Gillespie as young Cinderella were outstanding, and their characterisation was engaging and believable. Not only had they clearly worked hard to mirror one another’s style, mannerisms and expressions to ensure a smooth transition between the two roles, they also carried me with them on an emotional journey from joy, through bereavement and isolation, to disappointment and love. However, it was Mlindi Kulashe as the Magician who stole the show for me. He is a stunning dancer, but more than that, he brought the character of the Magician alive, providing great comedy moments alongside touching scenes with Cinderella. It was a joy to watch him perform, and I’d love to know the secrets behind his impressive magic tricks.
Accompanied by the amazing Northern Ballet Sinfonia, this is a fantastic retelling of a familiar story, and Northern Ballet should be applauded for continuing to produce and revive new work that opens up the world of ballet.
Northern Ballet’s Cinderella runs at the Sheffield Lyceum until Saturday 28th September and then continues to tour around the country until June 2020. Information and tickets can be found at: https://northernballet.com/cinderella
Reviewer: Jo Tillotson
Reviewed: 24th September 2019
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★