Scotland's newest holiday tradition, the Scottish Ballet's "Cinderella", swept back into the Theatre Royal on a suitably wintry Saturday evening. Created by artistic director Ashley Page for the company's 2005-06 holiday season, the ballet is a brash and colourful take on the classic rags to riches story. The production, set in Antony McDonald's very unique version of baroque era France, is an enjoyable romp of colour and creativity. Yet despite fine performances in the major roles, somewhere in all the razzle-dazzle, the fairy tale gets lost.
From the opening scene in a kitchen decorated with an odd blend of 18th century furniture and 20th century appliances, the ballet is full of everything...too full of everything. The whirlwind action of the pre-ball primping – decorators, designers, wig people, servants bearing shoes and jewelry, a faux band, the dancy bits for the equerry & interior dancer – that half an act goes by without much in the way of dance. It's not to say that the action isn't funny, clever or well acted, but so much is happening at all at once that the bits never cohere into a narrative.
Page finally does allow his dancers to show off their prowess, though not always aided by Antony McDonald's bulky costumes. The stepmother and step sister's day-glow hued gowns are wonderfully garish, but an immense bushy grey wig seems out of place on Soon Ja Lee's otherwise well outfitted fairy godmother. Equally problematic are the men's' long coats, which cover up their lines, and the bare legs of "The Seasons" which look overly muscular under the bright stage lights. Costume gaffs aside, the dancing was of a high standard, no doubt because though the season actually began with an afternoon matinee, the premiere cast was clearly reserved for this opening night.
Claire Robertson stepped back into the role of Cinderella, created on her last season, this time partnered by a noble Erik Cavallari, the company's sole male principal. Poignant as the downtrodden daughter and gently elegant as the belle of the ball, Robertson was nothing less than exquisite. In Page's production Cinderella initially dances in bare feet, providing an opportunity to admire Robertson's beautifully pointed feet and comfort in the swirling, always just-at-the-brink-of-off balance choreography. She is no less impressive with pointe shoes on, flying through the tricky, feet fluttering petite batterie in the first act.
Erik Cavallari, as the Prince, added some wonderful touches of characterisation to what can be a bland role (fairy tale princes tend to be described as rich, good-looking, and well, not much else…). The solidity of his partnering was evidenced by the fluidity and daring in the showpiece pas de deux. Cavallari was less impressive on his own, though this as much a fault of the mismatch between the rather lackluster choreography that emphasised airborne steps and Cavallari's natural strengths.
Though unfortunately wigged, Soon Ja Lee was an exemplary, if somber, fairy godmother. Of the Seasons, Sophie Martin (Summer) and Ruth Vaquerzio Garcia (Winter) were the standouts. Glauco Di Lieto and Paul Liburd almost stole the show as the prancing equerry and dancing master, each having refined and defined their over the top characters over the last year. Another fine duo were the stepsisters, Patricia Hines and Diana Loosemore, a pair of preening, cake-snarfing and pampered siblings. If Cinderella is the belle of the ball, these are the terribelles!
In the vital role of the father, Jarkko Lehmus's delicate touch is missed, for though Robert Doherty grows into the role, he seems too young opposite Claire Robinson. And without a believable father – daughter relationship, some of the emotion is lost. Lehmus is not scheduled to dance the role this year – a casualty perhaps of Page's decision to have seven casts of Cinderellas and Princes, including Lehmus. Are seven different casts, especially in a company with just 15 full time male dancers, really necessary
There's no such problem with Eve Mutso's stepmother, as Mutso once again gives a prima performance. Few people can sweep around with such authority in a bright pink dressing gown, nor carry a Marge Simpsonesque wig off with such aplomb. Two unexpected moments illustrated Mutso's immense professionalism – first an unexpected and well covered fall in the first act, and then a long, perfectly-acted ad lib to reattach the feathered headdress which fell off her wig.
The men, who were so impressive in the Edinburgh Festival program,unfortunately don't get much a chance to shine in "Cinderella". With the exception of Tama Berry, who looked tired from his matinee debut as the prince (a reasonable thing!), the men were sprightly in Page's pleasingly patterned ballroom choreography. The ballerina cogs were a bit rusty, though nothing that a bit more rehearsal and performance experience can’t fix.
The ending, though touching, is indicative of the production's weaknesses. Both the unnecessarily gory touches from older versions of Cinderella and very serious ending are not in keeping with the otherwise comedic feel of the ballet. And, there still seems to be no reason to have the now blinded stepsisters and their mother in the final scene of the father's redemption. It should be happily after all, not hobbling after all.
Nicholas Kok conducted the excellent Scottish Ballet Orchestra.