BWW Review: ENGLISH NATIONAL BALLET'S CINDERELLA, Royal Albert Hall
Swapping the Coliseum for the vastness of the unique space at London's Royal Albert Hall, English National Ballet's summer blockbuster is billed as their "biggest production to date".
Christopher Wheeldon's Cinderella was created for Dutch National Ballet in 2012 and first seen in the UK in 2015. Now, a restaged version made especially for the distinctive in-the-round venue sees it meet new demands.
What a production it is, overwhelming in visual details - from Natasha Katz's atmospheric lighting that brings a sense of menace to the opening scenes, to the glamour of Julian Crouch's grand costumes for attendants at the ball. The accomplished corps de ballet, here bulked up for the larger stage with third-year dancers from English National Ballet school, is also pivotal in meeting the ambitious scale required.
For both young and old, Wheeldon's storytelling is impressive throughout. You will be hard pressed to find a more lucidly presented narrative in any full-length ballet.
Emma Hawes and Katja Khaniukova are a playful pairing, a whirlwind of ego and narcissism as the a terrible twosome of step-sisters - Hawes taking the role of the more frivolous flirtatious one, whilst Khaniukova is goofy in her heavy-framed specs and dorky grin. Both are well suited to Wheeldon's physical choreography, with frequent tumbles to the floor in flouncy skirts.
They are overseen by Artistic Director Tamara Rojo in the role of the Stepmother, who puts on an unexpectedly comical turn. She's a stern taskmaster with a weakness for booze that reveals itself during the ball scene. She falters and totters helplessly, dancing a passionate pas de deux that's an ode to the wine glass she clutches at desperately. It's a joy to see Rojo in such an undignified role, executed so confidently.
Crouch's exquisite costume and design raise the production to dreamy heights. As good design should, Crouch enhances the choreographic storytelling by engineering magical moments such as Cinderella's carriage fashioned only with some wheels and wafting fabric, which receives spontaneous applause.
The dances representing the changing seasons flood the stage with glorious colour and choreography that sweeps around the vast stage. Shale Wagman steals attention in the Autumn dance with his unrelenting attack finesse, while Precious Adams' quality of movement flows beautifully in the Winter section.
Other highlights from the corps include the grand ball scene as they sway subtly to the unrelenting rhythms of Prokofiev's score, simultaneously symbolising the ticking hands of the clock.
The central role is played serenely by the ever-radiant Alina Cojocaru. Her initially forlorn face and inherent vulnerability warms her to the audience in a constantly dependable performance. Cojocaru's leading man is the youthfully dashing Isaac Hernandez, whose earnest Prince inhabits the large space well with some virtuoso leaps and jumps.
There is the occasional sense of a mark being missed in the overall principal choreography however. Wheeldon's choices for the climactic pas de deux, where the audience should be wowed by the unfolding love story, falls short, perhaps not helped by the expansive stage. Similarly, there is a feeling of the lead performers never being truly stretched by the rather leisurely momentum throughout the acts.
But these grumbles are easy to forgive when the performance is so touching. There is much to be savoured in this highly attractive production. Those who enjoy being close to the action would be wise to invest in stalls seats, as they can enjoy being regularly passed by the dancers on the staircases. From wherever it is experienced, it will be hard not be swept away by this magical and finely crafted escapism within a majestic setting.
Image: Ian Gavan