Show-stopping ballet

The phenomenal and prolific choreographer (Sir) Frederick Ashton – he created over eighty ballets – apparently created the three acts of Cinderella (Royal Opera House) in just four weeks. If so, it is a one month work of wonder and this production a work of art with Tom Pye’s design a glorious melange of variable colour and period detail opening up with a palatial drawing room, which has seen better days, though the stench of wealth and decadence remain. It sets the scene for a playful and trickster theme where facades become a symbol for this ever popular story of make believe. Fairy Godmother Mayara Magri delights in her power summoning the fairies of all four seasons offering the forlorn girl gifts taking her far away from her grey everyday existence. The fairytale is made even more stunning with Fin Ross’s gorgeous projections enveloping proceedings like a giant canvass of a 17th century Dutch still life painting which slowly fades leaving nothing but the glittering stars, a luminous moon and that clock. Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter have worked their magic and we are bewitched.
Fantasy worlds in ballet require the extraordinary and other worldliness to be transmitted by its dancers and both Yasmine Naghdi (Cinderella) and Matthew Ball (The Prince) excel in projecting an imagery that blend with the gorgeous backdrops. She is so light on her feet, radiates warmth and goodness, seeming to effortlessly pirouette across the set, her body an instrument of precision and beautiful shaping. Ball’s virtuosity may not be equally gobsmacking, though he does leap like a gazelle, and the technique is tiptop while his characterisation is modest and unassuming allowing Cinders to shine. Naghdi does just that but this being a folk tale, it is the grotesques who demand the spotlight and Luca Acri and Thomas Whitehead, two debauched and colourfully clothed Step-Sisters, burst in and take over. Whitehead has a ball; loud, obnoxious and hilarious with Acri the comically shy sibling. Their pastel coloured chiffon dresses are topped with headpieces worthy of Carmen Miranda. Guests at the ball meanwhile are a motley crew of escapees from Portobello Market wearing shabby chic outfits, that look of the affluent trying to look unrealistically demure.
All that and more, an orchestra in buoyant mood under the baton of Koen Kessels playing a score by Prokofiev that is sheer delight and a Hollywood ending (the dancing is minimal towards the end) as the happy couple ascend a stairway that says “and they lived happily ever after.” A simply beautiful ballet.
And Sotira Kyriakides is mesmerised…
Political critique, activism, spiritualism, murder mystery, poetry, and ruminations on universality and interconnectedness all feature in Complicité’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead (Barbican), this magical, spellbinding adaptation of the book by Olga Tokarczuk. Whilst the book’s ability to bring together so many themes is a brilliant starting point, this adaptation by director Simon Burney is astonishing in managing to capture the richness of the original in such an enchanting and powerful way. The initial impression of the apparent economy of the set design is soon abandoned as a kaleidoscopic cascade of video projections bring an array of images which dazzle with their vividness and ingenuity.
The lead character, Janina, is played by Kathryn Hunter (New York born Greek raised in England), Complicite’s award-winning veteran. Her diminutive frame belies an astonishing presence and gritty, powerful voice, which combine to give her a Bettie Davis allure which suits the eccentric and dynamic character she portrays.
There is something for everyone in this superb production, not only in terms of the range of issues and subjects it manages to bring together, but also in its dreamlike visuals and its narrative and thematic twists and turns that make for a mesmerising, heady, memorable evening that resonates long after the play is over. Complicite’s track record as one of the best theatre companies remains intact.
Cinderella –
Drive Your Plow’ – on tour –

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