BWW Review: CINDERELLA, The Australian Ballet, London Coliseum, 20 July 2016
The Australian Ballet return to the London Coliseum this summer with the UK debut of Alexei Ratmansky's Cinderella, created on the company in 2013. Sleek, surreal and contemporary, there is no trace of a pumpkin or any talking mice in this new adaptation of the classic fairy tale.
The story opens with Cinderella's stepmother and stepsisters (here named Skinny and Dumpy following the original Russian libretto) excitedly preparing for a ball, with visits from dashing hairdressers and a long-suffering dance master. Cinderella's father, still alive, has fallen upon hard times and is banished from the house. Left alone, Cinderella is desperate to attend the ball. An eccentrically dressed fairy godmother, complete with bowler hat and a Cyrano de Begarac long nose, conjures planets and celestial bodies to transform Cinderella into a princess and whisk her to the ball.
There, she and the Prince fall in love at first sight, to the envy of the guests and Cinderella's stepsisters. Once the clock strikes midnight, her finery disappears and the Prince is left with one glittering shoe. He searches the land, overcoming many temptations, to find the girl he fell in love with at the ball. Finally, upon arriving at Cinderella's house, she produces the matching shoe and the couple are reunited in a stunning pas de deux.
Ratmansky's contemporary take on Cinderella is refreshingly modern, echoing current celebrity and social media culture. The ball guests fall over themselves to keep up with fashion - the women changing from sleek tailored suits to feminine ball gowns, with the Stepsisters always one step behind. Women crowd the Prince, their thrusting arms held back by his faithful henchmen, in scenes reminiscent of a boyband concert. Ratmansky's characterful choreography features fist pumps and hip wiggling, animated expressions and mincing struts.
Jérôme Kaplan's set is the perfect accompaniment to this fairy tale with a twist. A shimmering, insubstantial tasselled back curtain adds an allure of glamour and mystery, allowing both set and performers to appear as if by magic. At the ball, a grove of topiary trees become walking metronomes in a gasp-inducing Disney-esque twist.
Kaplan's costume designs are similarly beautiful and glamorous, in a darkly rich colour palette. A puffball skirt and towering wig create distinct personas for the Dumpy and Skinny Stepsisters. In a magical, twirling transformation scene that does not disappoint, Cinderella appears in a stunning ball gown. Its luxurious, feminine shape (inspired by Dior's New Look) contrasts with the austere suits of the guests.
Leanne Stojmenov plays Cinderella on this opening night - a role created on her in 2013. She is a joy to behold, seeming to float across the stage with fluent épaulement, a fluid upper body, delicate footwork and gossamer-light leaps. Yet Stojmenov is a very modern Cinderella. Far from a downtrodden, picture book princess, she expresses rage and frustration after the ball with clenched fists and stamping feet. We see a touching, human fragility as she pulls away from the Prince's embraces; either scared of getting hurt or unable to comprehend the strength of her emotions. Her beautiful arabesques reach upwards with an achingly heartfelt and powerful yearning.
Kevin Jackson, as the Prince, bursts into the ball like a rock star. With jumps that travel almost impossibly far, he fills the stage with his energy before lapping up the attention with absolute confidence in his position. Jackson portrays a stunning change in his character from the minute he claps eyes on Cinderella: his jacket drops from his shoulder, his body is hit by an invisible yet powerful force, and he gazes at her with wide-eyed innocence and an adorable goofy smile.
Ingrid Gow and Eloise Fryer are hilarious and surprisingly endearing as the Skinny and Dumpy Stepsisters respectively. Fryer is reminiscent of actress Helena Bonham-Carter with her comically pursed lips and batting eyelashes.
Act II, the ballroom scene, is a near perfect passage of ballet. The chorus thrill with the strong dynamism and razor-sharp technique characteristic of The Australian Ballet. Their individual personalities shine through, creating a rich variety of interpretations and a fascinating, multi-layered story. Benedicte Bemet is particularly captivating, with pin-point accurate relevés and excitable facial expressions.
Stojmenov's delicate, expressive performance is the perfect antidote to the brazen power and athleticism of the chorus. Cinderella stands out as a unique and enticing prospect for the Prince. Their first pas de deux is so much more than a love story. As their hands entwine to create Shakespearean poetry, Cinderella leads the way with a guiding hand on the Prince's shoulder. Ratmansky's choreography gives the couple so many delicious moments of lingering eye contact, which Stojmenov and Jackson relish as they dance almost cheek to cheek.
The grand London Coliseum is a very fitting venue for this vibrant and effervescent company. In Cinderella, Alexei Ratmansky and The Australian Ballet have created something rare and wonderful: a fairy tale ballet which perfectly combines 19th-century tradition with a refreshing contemporary twist.
Photo: Jeff Busby