Christopher Weeldon creates magic right next to Imperial’s main campus at the Royal Albert Hall, in Cinderella, performed by the English National Ballet Philharmonic. A retelling of the Brothers Grimm fairy-tale, over ninety dancers and a live orchestra unfold a dream-like sequence with resplendent balls, forest creatures and a familiar love story.
Different from the graduation setting that we are more accustomed to, the ice rink-shaped stage of the Royal Albert Hall is beautifully harnessed with an entourage of light projections, a chandelier, and curtains, building each scene to aid the storytelling. Whether this be by the palace façade, or a ballroom with portraits of royalty (which change in a comedic way), the setting exudes a feeling of grandiosity that you cannot help but want to be a part of. The 18th century costumes of the human characters are gorgeous, the creativity and comedy of the woodland creature costumes (massive puppet and bird heads) equally elaborate, and they all tie into a wonderful, mesmerising piece.
This opulence, however, is frequently disturbed for those seated near the aisles as dancers constantly scuttle back and forth. Although the curious movement of the four Fates through the aisle facilitate an immersive act, overall this was just distracting and made the transitions between the scenes more jagged and discontinuous.
The performance had a dream-like quality, albeit starting off as mundane when Cinderella’s mum dies and she becomes isolated and ill-treated in the new family dynamics. The show builds up a spectacle, with ranging tones and moods from amusing to charming. The highlight scenes include the stepsisters fighting, Cinderella’s transformation into a beauty with silk wings, and her stepmother in a duet with her champagne glasses and waking up hungover and puking into the pot of porridge. A routine with the woodland creatures and the comedic search for the shoe’s perfect fit provided a myriad of reactions, from enthrallment to laughter. Culminating in (spoiler alert!) Cinderella and Prince Guillaume’s wedding, Cinderella gets a happy ending despite the trials and tribulations of her stepmother and step-sisters.
Alina Cojocaru presents as a graceful and elegant Cinderella, calm and subservient to begin with before eventually taking hold of her own destiny to meet strong-willed Isaac Hernández as Prince Guillaume. Where the absence of the fairy godmother disappointed me, the strange, obfuscate four Fates took over the mysticism. Present in the looming background throughout, Fates moved Cinderella across the dining table, or just sat splayed, watching her.
Essentially a ballet performance, the show was primarily carried by the grand setting, costumes and props, less so by the physical dancing. Dreamy routines reached too close to drowsy, the opening routines lacked oomph. It was only once that royal grandiosity was established that the choreography alternated between unspeaking beauty and magical marvel. Crucial to the fairy-tale, the love story was sadly unconvincing and lacked the euphoria and exhilaration Cinderella and Prince Charming deserve. The duet between the two, although well performed, didn’t portray the passion and love a Cinderella performance requires.
The show was spectacular for the performance as a whole, but not by the ballet in isolation. Weeldon’s interpretation of the classic retells the love story we are ever so familiar with, but unfortunately brings very little to satiate any appetite for the new or different. A comforting show, Cinderella promises to lighten your mood and provide an escape from deadlines and exams, especially when you know exactly what to expect next in the story.
- 3 stars