Jemma Beggs was at the Riverfront Theatre, Newport, to review a contemporary performance of Cinderella by Ballet Cymru.
Renowned for their exceptional ability to transform even the most overdone of age old tales into something thrilling and contemporary, Ballet Cymru do not disappoint with their beautiful recreation of the classic Cinderella. Co-produced by Ballet Cymru and The Riverfront Theatre and in association with Citrus Arts, classical dance is interspersed with circus elements to create a visual banquet of a ballet. Based on The Brothers Grimm’s fairy tale, there is a not a Disney pumpkin or chiming clock in sight; when the lights go down, a disembodied whispering voice seeps through the theatre, perfectly establishing that dark and slightly uneasy atmosphere that characterises all Grimm fairy tales.
The use of projected images to form the set’s backdrop seems to have become a frequent fixture in modern theatre and Ballet Cymru take this one step further by adding an additional see-through screen in front of the stage, giving the parts of the performance we view through this, a hazy dreamlike quality which fits the piece perfectly. The images projected onto both screens are gorgeously crafted drawings, enhancing the fairy tale quality in a way photographs could not have competed with. Witnessing the cast’s beautiful ballet through falling snow, floating clouds and changing seasons is simply magical and the dancing is, without doubt, exquisite.
Set to Jack White’s wonderful musical score, every single member of the troupe is highly skilled, seamlessly merging tremendous strength with a delicate grace and poise. Darius James and Amy Doughty’s superb choreography leaves no room for error; the sequences are so tight a misplaced toe could prove disastrous yet everything is danced with apparent ease, proving just how talented these young professionals are. In some places there is a slight over-abundance of movement, making it difficult to place the focal point of the action but on the whole, the performance has an easy flow to it.
Allegra Vianello portrays a sweet and innocent Cinderella, carefully striking the right balance so as not to become insipid or sickly in her virtue. She is enchanting to watch, particularly in her duets with the wonderful Daniel Morrison as The Prince. En pointe in her white ball gown dress, she is a pure vision of the quintessential ballerina. Lydia Arnoux as the (not so ugly) stepsister is particularly vibrant, pirouetting and pas de bourrée-ing her way across the stage with startling agility. However, Natalie Debono as the evil stepmother completely steals the show. Her haughty demeanour is in complete synchronicity with the sharp lines and grandiose lifts of the choreography, which she performs to perfection. She has a captivating presence further enhanced by Steve Denton’s spectacular costume; deep reds, decadent satins and a severe headpiece made for a deliciously dark, rather couture, villain.
As costume and set designer, Denton has done a sensational job in creating the magical world in which the story exists. From Cinderella’s sugary pink dress to the Prince’s royal purple and gold waistcoat, right down to the fancy bows which adorned the back of the men’s shirts, the detail and thought given to each costume in order to bring each character to life is immense and vital to a non-speaking art form such as the ballet. The only words spoken are a couple of necessary lines by the narrator which unfortunately is slightly out of sync with the rest of the performance; the elegant Cinderella’s words do not carry quite the right effect when delivered in a man’s voice and it may have proven better to project the few words onto the screen instead.
Some of the key parts of this classic tale do not always translate well from the story to the stage; it is obviously impractical to dance ballet in glass slippers but even a ballet slipper decorated with glitter or sequins would have served to differentiate and could have been easily achieved. However, what it leaves out in tradition, it more than makes up for in innovation. Citrus Arts aerial effects, performed chiefly by the marvellous Krystal Lowe, bring an exciting new aspect to the eternal fairy tale. Deftly woven into the story, the aerial acrobatics and ribbon amplifies the ethereal atmosphere of the evening.
Ballet Cymru’s Cinderella is extremely special, not least because it is stamped ‘Made in Wales’. With the artistic directors, set and costume designer and composer all Newport based and both collaborators also situated in South Wales, this is a proud achievement for Cymru. The production is narrated in both Welsh and English and all the character’s names are Welsh; Prince Charming is replaced by Madoc (according to folklore, a real Welsh prince who sailed to America over 300 years before Christopher Columbus) and the evil stepmother is christened Aerona meaning Celtic Goddess. These additional touches, likely undiscovered by most of the audience, illustrate just how much pride, care and attention to detail Ballet Cymru pay to every aspect of their productions. It’s no surprise then, that their shows are a wonder to behold.
Jemma Beggs has written many performing arts reviews for Wales Arts Review.