First published in The Times, Thursday December 10 2015
In an early draft of the Grimms’ folk tale, the wicked stepmother tells her daughters to cut off their heels and toes in order to fit the glass slipper. It’s the stuff of which children’s nightmares are made, and a world away from the unfettered sweetness of Christopher Hampson’s Cinderella, which was originally choreographed for the Royal New Zealand Ballet and staged for the first time in the UK by Scottish Ballet.
Here, the stepsisters are not so much bad as misunderstood and the title character (danced by Bethany Kingsley-Garner) smiles even through the drudgery of the opening scenes.
Hampson’s storytelling may be generous of spirit but it thankfully never strays into the sentimental. The sense of restraint that runs through the choreography extends to the gorgeous production design, created by Tracy Grant Lord and inspired by the swirling forms and subtle shades of art nouveau. The major set piece is the stylised rose bush planted by Cinders to commemorate her mother, which flourishes over the course of three acts into a forest of elaborately curving branches studded here and there with jewelled flowers. It’s a striking piece of imagery that perfectly complements Prokofiev’s beautiful score.
It may be churlish to find fault with something so exquisitely rendered and pleasing to the eye, but if Hampson’s production has a shortcoming it is that the lack of dramatic and choreographic variety makes it difficult to fully engage with the piece on an emotional level. Kingsley-Garner and Christopher Harrison, as the prince, are well-matched and there are some nice innovations, including the suggestion that the prince recognises his true love even without the aid of the glass slipper.
Yet, too often the characters’ dilemmas, the battles between good and evil and sense of redemption become lost at times in all the pictorial elegance. In the end we’re left thanking our fairy godmothers for the injections of bawdy humour provided by Sophie Martin and Eve Mutso as the stepsisters. Bow-legged and knock-kneed the pair fills up the space with their flailing limbs and gaudy outfits. Make no mistake: it takes considerable skill for a ballerina to look this ungainly.