English National Ballet's Cinderella, Mayflower REVIEW: 'A wonderfully refined spectacle'

Former Royal Ballet choreographer Christopher Wheeldon created this version of Cinderella as a co-production with San Francisco Ballet and Dutch National Ballet some eight years ago.

English National Ballet's Cinderella is at Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, until Saturday.
English National Ballet's Cinderella is at Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, until Saturday.

If you’re familiar with the Royal Ballet’s version – choreographed by Frederick Aston in 1948 – this couldn’t be more different. Out with the English camp humour and cross-dressing. Here it is all clean modern classicism and psychological motivation.

The stepsisters aren’t monstrous pantomime dames, but ugly on the inside and with a garish taste in dresses and – worse still – they have to act as though they can’t dance.

In the ballet world, of course, true virtue is signalled by how well you move. Cinderella’s goodness is evident by her delicate and precise footwork. Last night, she was danced by ENB’s Emma Hawes, an American, all elegant buoyancy and languid long limbs. Her prince was the Italian Francesco Gabriele Frola, slightly too short for Hawes’ height, but with a great jump and masculine presence.

I slightly missed the wit of Ashton’s famous dance between Cinderella and her broom but appreciated Wheeldon’s modern take on the fairy tale and the use of fantastical puppetry by New York designer Basil Twist, most notably in the transformation scene when the stage fills with woodland sprites and dancing horse chestnuts complete with spiky heads.

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    Wheeldon does true romance with enormous heart, especially in the two main pas de deux, but he’s not quite so pitch-perfect at the dark humour needed to balance it.

    The stepmother’s drunk scene and the wibbly-wobbly sisters only got polite sniggers but no true laughs.

    Still, Cinderella and her prince were very convincingly in love.

    Overall – you can forgive a few creaky gags in this wonderfully refined spectacle of dance, music and stagecraft. 

    Until Saturday.