The words ‘cat’ and ‘pigeons’ came to mind when Birmingham Royal Ballet director Carlos Acosta informed The Stage newspaper that the company needed to become more ‘relevant’. Many balletomaniacs took this as a coded indication that the classics were being moved to a bed near the door. In fact of course Acosta, steeped in classical ballet since his first lessons in Havana at the age of nine, is convinced that tradition and innovation can coexist peacefully. After garnering top-to-bottom reviews for their three-night series Organized by Carlos, a mixed lineup of contemporary works, the Birmingham dancers are back in tights and tutus for a 2010 cover of David Bintley Cinderella.
The house the company borrowed from the Birmingham Repertory Theater entailed many compromises. John Macfarlane’s sets had to be trimmed to fit – the representative’s stage is two meters thinner than BRB’s racetrack house (which was closed for the duration of the pandemic) – and the body and the behind-the-scenes team were cut in half thanks to the need to “bubble” Covid. Meanwhile, Paul Murphy and the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, safely seated in a nearby studio, were broadcast live in the auditorium.
Cuts in the text itself were made in anticipation of a diktat without an interval (in this case, pauses were allowed) and various numbers of lizard footmen, fairies and ball guests were deleted. But those nips and tucks serve to tighten up the story and certainly made it more digestible for toddlers wearing tiaras on last Saturday morning.
The depopulated sets provide a closer look at Macfarlane’s lovely costumes, executed in a palette of charcoal, grape, and burgundy soot. The tutus of the 12 stars are as sharp as flywheels and the sumptuous men’s frock coats – devoured velvet with brocade frills – are a tailoring miracle that amplifies every pirouette.
Bintley hijacks Prokofiev’s opening for a quick story so far to explain the heroine’s orphanhood and the arrival of the blended family from Hell. Eilis Small may be a little too young and adorable for the mean stepmom. With so few senior characters in the current lineup, maybe it would be best to take on this role. in transvestite (Valentin Olovyannikov would be splendid) but Bintley – a formidable ugly sister in her day – obviously wanted to avoid comparisons to the pantomimes of Frederick Ashton’s 1948 production which still danced in Covent Garden.
Saturday’s siblings were danced by Alexandra Burman and Laura Day, the latter locked in a body fat costume (how long before that was doomed as “magnification,” I wonder?). They handled their flexible-footed klutzing with great skill and their catfights and falls nailed every laugh.
Soloist Karla Doorbar was a melancholy and oppressed Cinders, carefully accompanied by Lachlan Monaghan. Their duos never really caught on fire, but it’s more the fault of the cold, stereotypical couple from Bintley. His writing is at its best when he surrenders to the music: Cinderella tiptoeing down the steps of the ballroom with the shimmering flute and celesta, drunk on the brink of her happy ending.
On June 26, then at the Theater Royal, Plymouth from July 8 to 10, brb.org.uk