During lockdown, the English National Ballet has provided weekly ballets on Wednesdays, spoiling audiences around the world with their #ENBAtHome program, whose previous performances included Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon and August Bornonville’s La Sylphide. To close their generous program, the non-profit ballet organization has broadcast Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella ballet at Royal Albert Hall (available from July 8 – 10, 2020). The whimsical Cinderella in the round show was filmed on June 5, 2019 and lasts about two hours, without intermissions. We review the ballet – and reveal how it differs from the traditional versions, below. (Spoiler alert: there is no fairy godmother.)
ENB: Wheeldon Cinderella at Royal Albert Hall Review
The first act introduces three key characters as youngsters, Cinderella (Bonnie Bradfield), Prince Guillaume (Matteo Bynoe) and the prince’s friend Benjamin (Ayan Hull-Jurkovic). Benjamin’s adult role, danced by Jeffrey Cirio, adds a bit of humour, as well as an extra love interest for a certain stepsister, and gives the audience another chance to drool over some fantastic grand allegro choreography.
Wheeldon also keeps Cinderella’s father (Fabian Reimair) alive throughout the show and opts to replace a single fairy godmother with a masculine masked quartet of Fates in blue, personified by Junor Souza, James Forbat, James Streeter and Francisco Bosch.
You’d think that the main event of the first act would be Cinderella’s transformation. But since we can’t see mice and bird helpers sew her a new dress, like in Disney’s animated classic – and there’s no way to do change such intricate costumes on stage – much of the choreography builds up to the big reveal.
Quirky white birds flood the stage, along with curious ogre-like creatures with ginormous heads and dance ensembles in vibrant two-toned costumes. At one point they crouch around Cinderella (Alina Cojocaru), giving the illusion of a voluminous rainbow-colored ballgown, before she disappears into a tree and reappears in a light gold dress with a regal train.
When she gathers the tail-end of the train in her hands and rockets forward, the fabric folds back into an arched carriage top, over the four wagon wheels. Behold, the belle is off to the ball!
The second act heavily features sweeping waltzes over dizzying mandala projections. While the scene is assuredly grand, the dancers’ big motions (needed to reach the far audience) eventually become monotonous: another twirl, another kick, another lift, another overhead arc of the arm. However, the choreography does work well to make the dancers part of the moving set when juxtaposed with the more complex duet between Cinderella and the prince (Isaac Hernández), especially when the lighting casts the dancers in a different shade.
We see the stepsisters posture like elementary gymnasts and ‘in your face’ flourishes when they dance, and Wheeldon creates parts for three exoticized females to demonstrate the extreme desirability the bachelor – including a flamenco dancer and a Thai dancer with long metallic finger ornaments. The worldly women don’t add much, but the booze-fueled antics of the tipsy stepmother, Hortensia (Tamara Rojo), do.
If you’re interested in Asian representation on stage, see our interview with Phil Chan – co-founder of Final Bow for Yellowface… And if it’s drunken antics in dance form that amuse you, check out Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon and Mayerling ballets.
The uniform pacing of the ball scene is broken when Cinderella knocks over a tray and frantically realizes she needs to depart before her identity is revealed. A pendulum ominously swings in the background and cogs spin on the floor as the leading lady fights her way to the exit, through the mass of bodies that crowd around her. When Cinderella dashes out of the palace, she passes through a set of pillars, which seem to stretch out endlessly before her.
The final act opens in silence. Seated women fill a long row of chairs to try on the leftover golden shoe from the party. Among them, a bird, a large-headed creature and a one legged suitor try on the pointe shoe, which eventually makes its way to Cinderella’s house. Here, Hortensia mercilessly hammers it onto her eldest daughter’s foot. Edwina (Emma Hawes) hobbles around for a bit before toppling over, and Cinderella floats out with the other golden shoe, supported by her four ‘Fates-ful’ friends. Mystery solved.
The newly reunited pair share a lovely pas de deux in a secluded forest – but they’re not entirely convincing as soul mates here – or at their wedding celebration. And the pairing off of Benjamin and younger step-sister, Clementine (Katja Khaniukova) seems to call for equal jubilation. Still, everyone acknowledges the new princess and the four Fates bow out, leaving her to navigate her own “happily ever after.”
Wheeldon’s Cinderella in the round choreography takes full advantage of the massive, circular stage at Royal Albert Hall. The 130+ dancers move uniformly to create mesmerizing floor patterns, complemented by the lighting, projections and costumes (namely, full skirts that bloom to cover the stage). Despite all of the magic, the piece lingers a bit too long in some sections – and transitions a few too many times from small ensembles to the corps and back again. Still, you’re sure to find the experience enchanting, even from home.
Were you able to see Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella ballet at Royal Albert Hall in London? Or did you catch it online with the #ENBAtHome program? Let us know what you thought in the comments below.