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Scottish Ballet - 'Cinderella'

by Kate Snedeker

December 13, 2005 -- Theatre Royal, Glasgow

When Ashley Page sinks his choreographic teeth into a classic fairy-tale, it's expected that one will see the unexpected. And in "Cinderella", his second holiday production for the Scottish Ballet, Page has whipped up a truly unique concoction for his ever-improving company. If not entirely cohesive narratively, the production is certainly a whimsical whirl of color and plays to the artistic talent of the cast.

Though the program would suggest it is set in 18th century France, Page's "Cinderella", as conceived by Antony McDonald, is more historical fiction than fact, defying any attempts to firmly place it in time or space. In the grand house of Scene 1, the shocking pink wallpaper and elegant chandeliers of stage right segue into a bare-walled kitchen with fridge and grimy sink groaning under the weight of a skyscraper of disgustingly dirty dishes. Separating the refined from the repulsive is one sad strip of wallpaper just barely clinging to the wall. It's a room badly in need of TLC, perhaps from the likes of "How Not to Decorate" stars Colin and Justin, who happened to be at the theatre to shoot an episode of their show and watch the performance.

In this unlikely fairytale location, Page approaches the story with a mix of hyperbole and pathos. There's nothing more over the top than Cinderella's step sisters, who are one scary pair of fluorescently outfitted, grotesquely pampered, pastry snarfing siblings (and played, unusually, by women!). As the domineeringly sexy stepmother, Eve Mutso once more showed off the presence that makes her Scottish Ballet's real prima ballerina. Tall and coolly haughty, she was superbly matched up with Jarkko Lehmus as Cinderella's overpowered and emotionally lost father. Mutso and Lehmus have featured in many of Page's works, and this is one of his best creations for the duo. Her height and presence creates power while his solid muscularity makes his absolute emotional submission all the more pathetic.

The first act is all hustle and bustle, complete with a campily humorous duo for Interior Designer and Dancing Master danced with pizzazz by veterans Glauco Di Lieto and Paul Liburd. The amusing little interludes are fun, if short on substantial dancing, and the “dishpan” orchestra is a hoot. Yet, in all the fun we seem to lose track of the ballet's essence -- Cinderella. It's a shame because Page could not have found a more perfect dancer to embody his leading lady than Claire Robertson. Elegant, but appealing fresh-faced, she's a true Scottish Cinderella -- the belle of the ball, but every inch her own woman.

Cinderella's Act I solos, exquisitely danced by Robertson, reflect the mix of modern and classical styles that is becoming the core of Scottish Ballet. She begins her dance in bare feet, stretching out into the empty space, often bent legged in attitude. After the mysterious hooded lady who emerges from the fireplace gives her a pair of slippers in exchange for the gift of her dead mother's silken shoes, Cinderella's dance continues on pointe. This shift in choreographic style from earthy and jagged to smoother and more refined perhaps reflects Cinderella's transition from humbled ”maid” to ball-beauty.

It is in the final scene of this act that the narrative begins to gently fray. Here, Soon Ja Lee's mossy, earth hued costumed fairy godmother (a costume decidedly short on sequins and glitter, but appropriate to the production) conjures up the four seasons. Each season's solo is cleverly illustrated by projected images on the brick-wall backdrop, the snow covered branches of winter the most timely and evocative. Winter was also the finest performed of the solos, the delicate, precise steps beautifully danced by Ruth Vaquerizo Garcia.

However, the giving of the gifts and Cinderella's transformation from rags to ballgown are somewhat underplayed, and a bit of the magic lost. But we are also introduced to the most clever part – Page’s cogs. In stiff, crenellated tutus, the black clad ballerinas represent the cogs of time, the ticking of the clock that controls the fate of Cinderella. With the cogs, we see Page at his choreographic best -- edgy, punchy steps with a zest and breezy movement across the stage.

And Page most cleverly solves the age old problem of getting Cinderella to the ball without breaking the bank -- no mice, no mess, no horses. Just a pumpkin that turns into a hot-air balloon. Why bump along the roads when you can soar in the sky?!

The grand ball, complete with exotic princesses, chevaliers and ambassadors is colorful, but a little underwhelming. The black and white backdrop, portraying gardens reminiscent of Versailles, is wonderfully effective, creating a realistic depth and atmosphere. Our introduction to Cristo Vivancos' Prince is uninformative and brief, and Cinderella's arrival at the ball lacks the oooh-factor. Her white tutu is pretty, but not belle of the ball stunning and the pinched-waist coats and dresses on the other dancers obscure their lines, a shame with a company that is dancing at such a high level.

The group dances are pleasant, covering a lot of space without feeling rushed despite a relatively small cast. As with previous productions, the women are stronger than the men, something that only time and training will help. However, the choreography seemed to stumble in the central pas de deux, which was lacking in chemistry and grandeur. For while Robertson was elegantly romantic, Vivancos, though spot on technically, failed to bring much emotion to the role. Opening nights can be stressful, and one hopes that increased experience will allow Vivancos to focus more on the character and less on the steps.

Also, though Page's unique choreographic style is generally very effective, a grand pas deux needs a bit of flash, and this one had its moments, but no crescendos. Swan dives, split lifts and the like might be classical clichés, but happily ever after needs a bit of glitz. That said, the floor skimming lifts were wonderfully evocative.

In act three, the story finds its resolution with the Prince's search for the owner of the lost slipper. Page injects a wonderful dose of humor with the outsized and odd feet that various women try to force into the shoe, but perhaps pushed the limits with the bloodying of the step-sisters. In the original fairy tale, the sisters mutilate their feet to try and fit in the slipper, but that's a bit of reality that didn't need to be seen onstage. The ballet will surely attract a young audience, and the vivid portrayal may frighten them and was off-putting in an otherwise light hearted production.

Once Cinderella finds her Prince, the story normally ends. But Page chooses to close with the now ragged step sisters, stepmother and father stumbling across the stage. But as Cinderella and her Prince dance across in the background, the father is redeemed by the fairy godmother. This gift of forgiveness is an evocative final image, fitting for a ballet premiered in the season of giving and forgiving.

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