I took the girls to see Matthew Bourne's Cinderella at Sadler's Wells last night.
We love Matthew Bourne's shows, which are great for people like us who are not connoisseurs of ballet, but who like to see something special at Christmas.
We were sitting really close to the front of the theatre, which meant that the recorded music was far too loud and I had to stuff crumpled up bits of tissue into my ears, but once I'd done that I could settle down and enjoy it!
It started off with newsreel footage from Wartime Government Information Films that instructed people what to do when the bombers appeared in the skies above them; a man hid in a ditch, and there was a lot of footage from the rear, of suggestive looking fire-hoses extinguishing the flames in bombed-out houses; behind a mesh screen, a family of characters watched what we were watching.
As the screen rose, we were presented with a strange, large family; father was in a wheelchair, a supreme irony in a ballet. There was a horrid, slimy, foot-fetishist lodger (I thought), two glamorous ugly sisters who looked like younger versions of Gert and Daisy (of the Wartime Cookbook), and various other characters. All was in black and white: blimps on sticks hovered on the horizon, and the beautifully-made clothes were in shades of grey. Not only was it black and white, but it also had the feel of a silent movie, with the dancers acting and dancing along to the pre-recorded Profokiev soundtrack that was punctuated by bomb explosions. They were very quiet dancers; although I could hear them breathing (very subtly, through their nostrils), their footfalls were much lighter and more delicate than those of classical dancers with their blocked shoes.
I read some reviews of this ballet before sitting down to write this, because I wanted to know who played the part of Cinderella. I think we were lucky because we saw Noi Tolmer dance the part. She is of Thai origin and she is really the most exquisite dancer: she dances as lightly as a feather, so beautifully that at times I felt like crying.
This is a very romantic ballet. The critics have complained that there is not enough dancing in it, but there is so much else there, and the choreography is fantastic when it happens, starting with Cinderella's dance with the dummy that suddenly comes to life ( with it's references to Liesl in The Sound of Music). (actually, the funny little woman with the 'earphone' hair was straight out of the concert scene in The Sound of Music too). The contrast between her fluidity and the male dancer's stiffness was amazing.
The foot-fetishist (Cinderella's all about shoes, innit?) was genuinely sweaty with juicy lips (ugh!) and kept sliming around just when he wasn't wanted. There were funny bits, sad bits, horrible bits (set in wartime, you could feel the panic and greed in the air, so much at odds with the fabled 'Wartime Spirit'). There were references to Sleeping Beauty that a child could understand, and it was well-cast with old-fashioned head shapes and profiles, although with occasional 1980s-looking hairstyles sometimes they could feasibly have been Matthew's clubbing friends!
The wicked stepmother was truly wicked, trying it on with the leading man (an airman with a suspiciously clone-like moustache); she was a mistress of arch expressions. She tried to suffocate Cinderella with a pillow before being marched off to prison. I liked the fairy godfather too, who conducted everyone whenever he was needed.
We absolutely loved it, and I was blown away by Cinderella's dancing. I think the critics who wrote about this ballet saw it danced by another lead dancer.
Noi Tolmer has just the charm that the part needed and the lightness of bearing that went perfectly with the themes of doom and redemption; it was genuinely magical and we left feeling glad that Matthew Bourne had delivered another inspiring evening out to a family of arty-farties who don't get to go to the ballet very often!