Scottish Ballet return to Belfast with 'a mischievous, tender, exciting' performance of Prokofiev's masterpiece

Prokofiev’s Cinderella is one of the seminal ballets of the 20th century, a work full of chromaticism, colour and macabre humour.

Written over the course of four years (in the final years of the composer's life) and premiered in 1945, Cinderella has become a favourite with choreographers, who revel in the imaginative score, the juxtaposing rhythms and the multi-faceted and vivid personalities of the characters.

Cinderella is one of the finest examples of orchestration in Prokofiev's repertoire, and stands out among his work for its inventiveness. It is, perhaps, comparable to the vivacious instrumentations of Erich Wolfgang Korngold in his operatic work, although Prokofiev is a little more restrained.

Scottish Ballet’s production is fantastic, superbly choreographed and staged. The Vivienne Westwood meets Andy Warhol set and costume design works incredibly well with the story’s themes, taking us into a fantastical world.

In the lead role is Tomomi Sato; her Cinderella is troubled, but beautifully performed. Sato brings a classic elegance to the role, as well a dramatic charm and sensitivity; and her performance is enhanced by an equally stellar performance by Tama Barry as the Prince.

The first act presents us with the varied cast, particularly the wicked stepsisters, performed by Martina Forioso and Brenda Lee Grech. Prokofiev wrote the stepsisters as manic and strange, crazy and cunning. The dancers capture their personalities perfectly.

They are the subject of some of the best set pieces in the ballet, and always at the centre of the dramatic subtext. They are supported by Kara McLaughlin’s obsessed and power hungry Stepmother and the ever suffering and cash strapped Father, played by Owen Thorne. All enter into the comedy of the piece with an immediate energy, which helps to offset the more romantic and tender moments in the ballet.

The orchestra, conducted by Benjamin Pope, give a marvellous performance and add much to the production. The score here is rich in instrumental colour and contains a variety of difficult solo passages for several sections including trumpet, horns, oboes and strings. But the musicians rise to the challenge well, and Honner’s direction allows for a great partnership between dancers and musicians.

One of the best moments of the evening occurs during the second act, which is really a showcase for the ensemble of dancers. Most spectacular of all is the 'Grand Waltz', where we see some great choreography.

The ballet concludes with the cast assembled around a clock as it ticks towards midnight. Each dancer takes on the role of clock hands as Cinderella scurries to escape the ball: it is visually stunning. With Cinderella Scottish Ballet have created a mischievous, tender, beautiful, exciting and elegant production of Prokofiev’s classic work.

by Jane Coyle

Everybody loves a late Christmas present, especially when it’s stylishly delivered and lovingly gift-wrapped like the Scottish Ballet’s Cinderella.

Since Ashley Page took over as artistic director in 2002, the former Royal Ballet principal dancer and choreographer has taken the company’s repertoire and reputation to unprecedented levels of excellence. He has created thrilling new works as well as dazzling revivals of the classics.

This production of Cinderella was created in 2005, following his revival of The Nutcracker a year earlier. Page and designer Anthony McDonald evolved a plan to develop an annual Christmas season, offering enhanced artistic and technical challenges within a dance context that would be entertaining and familiar to audiences.

The result has been a spectacular revisiting of the trilogy of fairytale ballets - completed by The Sleeping Beauty. All the ballets were conceived in the spirit of wit and mischief. They combine contemporary and historical imagery with a strong emphasis on the original narrative.

The main challenge in delivering Cinderella to a modern-day audience is in its presentation. The saccharine-sweet Disney animation is firmly embedded in the consciousness of adults and children across the world. Ballet fans will be equally familiar with Sir Frederick Ashton’s wonderful 1948 version, where the pantomime elements memorably featured two male dancers in the roles of the Ugly Sisters.  Versions of the Cinderella story have been done on ice, on the big screen and in television makeover shows.

For the story at the core of this production, Page and McDonald went back in time to the original Chinese tale of Ye Xian, recorded in the year 860. In the manner of the best fairytales, a dark heart beats beneath the pretty sugar coating of the story. This allows Page and McDonald to present a credible morality tale, in which cruelty, greed and oppression are ranged against goodness, compassion and the survival of the human spirit.

It might sound terribly earnest and not a barrel of laughs, but fear not. Page and his team believe firmly in having a lot of fun and the whole thing is awash with playful references to the cult of materialism and fast bucks. The evening is all about shoes, gorgeous shoes. As the curtain rises, we are confronted with a large painted gauze showing a brocaded 18th century court shoe, followed by the sight of a pair of silk slippers being gifted from dying mother to daughter.

Then comes the family from hell. A flamboyant trophy wife (Kara McLaughlin) and her two flashy daughters (Martina Forioso and Brenda Lee Grech) are beside themselves in the excitement of redecorating their new home in the worst possible taste. Out go the subdued wallpaper and portrait of the recently deceased lady of the house, to be replaced by neon-coloured walls and accessories and a hideous pink telephone. In the background, the hapless husband (Owen Thorne) mentally counts the cost, while his shy daughter slowly realises that she is to be the object of humiliation and insults at the hands of her new siblings.

Suddenly, the stepsisters cease their primping and preening and turn on Tomomi Sato’s tiny, fragile Cinderella, tearing away her clothes and smearing her mother’s ashes across her face. This shocking sequence early on in proceedings is a prime example of Page’s artistic daring and his dancers’ willingness to respond.

Special mention should also go to Tama Barry’s strutting, tongue-in-cheek Prince, Luciana Ravizzi’s magical Godmother and Lewis Landini and Luke Ahmet as the Equerry and Dancing Master, the happiest and funniest couple on stage.

Page’s sharply defined, witty choreography and McDonald’s sublime set and costumes go hand-in-hand with Prokoviev’s haunting score conducted by Benjamin Pope. The setting is, appropriately, pre-revolution France, when Marie Antoinette and her courtiers lived a decadent, ostentatious existence far removed from the experiences of the impoverished masses.

While the Prince and his true love dance blissfully away to eternal happiness, the perpetrators of evil are left blind, penniless and doomed. It’s a bleak reminder that fairytales do not necessarily have to end happy ever after.