When I was little I wanted to be a ballet dancer, I was always prancing and twirling around. The lady next door to my aunt gave ballet lessons and I always begged my mum to let me go. She said she couldn’t afford it, but I think really she just knew that I was too lanky and unbalanced and had no sense of rhythm and certainly no poise, I was so clumsy! Still, I kept dreaming. My Dad loved the ballet and would watch it on our old black and white television. My other aunt gave me a jewellery box with a little ballerina inside which twirled to Swan Lake.
Yet, it took me 52 years to go and see a ballet on stage for the very first time!
Last December I went to see the magical Nutcracker and I loved every minute, it was beautiful, emotional, colourful and simply amazing. Then my friend told me about Mathew Bourne and I was intrigued.
So we went to see Cinderella, set in London during WWII, and it was completely different to our Nutcracker experience.
The rest of this post includes lots of spoilers so be warned. However, it doesn’t matter how much I tell you, it will be nothing like actually seeing the performance!
Set to Prokofiev’s Cinderella score, which has been used for classic ballet so many times before, the music gave you all you expect, grand waltzes, mazurkas and national dances, fairy tale magic in the style of Tchaikovsky’s most famous ballets. However, the interpretation was so different.
The first act started much as you would expect with Cinderella waiting on her family in their home, the invitations to the ball arrive and Cinderella is left out. Then when the family have retired to bed Cinderella acts out her fantasy of meeting a man by dancing with a mannequin, which is briefly turned into a male dancer who is dancing like a mannequin. It was all very clever.
Then the Fairy Godmother arrives, but it’s not, it’s an Angel, and he is male. He looks stunning in a shiny white suite with a shock of white hair. It was at this point that I realised everything was in monochrome, apart from the little specks of colour provided by something like a table cloth, all the dancers where in black, grey, navy blue or dark brown, the shock of white really stood out. It really helped to set the time scene, it really felt like 1940s London as you would see in a black and white film on tv. Matthew Bourne found a lot of inspiration from old films like, A Matter of Life and Death, The Bishops Wife, Brief Encounter and Waterloo bridge, all released in the 40s.
Cinderella gets her coveted invite and the Angel takes her off in the sidecar of a white motor scooter
The ‘ball’ was inspired by the Café de Paris which was destroyed during the blitz in London in 1941. Despite the war and regular bombings, party goers would go to venues where they could dance the evening away and forget all the troubles. The Café de Paris was an underground ballroom where all sorts of society would mix together, sing, dance and have fun. In March 1941 the dance floor was heaving with party goers when two bombs hit the building causing massive devastation and many deaths and injuries. A little unusual for the setting of Cinderella’s ball don’t you think?
I loved the ball, the music was amazing and the dancers took us through a whole evening of entertainment, dancing, cavorting and drinking. Then at the end of the evening the dancers were continuing while inebriated which was both amusing and visually stunning. Cinderella arrived, the only guest in a stunning white ball gown, and met her ‘prince’ who was actually an RAF pilot and they went on to do a little more than you would expect with a romantic bedroom scene. Then we go back to the revellers when the bombs hit and we witness the devastation.
While recovering from that scene we are treated to a scene at Waterloo Station with prostitutes and a confused and injured RAF ‘prince’ looking for Cinderella as all he has left is her single silver shoe. We then continue to a bridge scene where he is dancing with the shoe before getting beaten up by two shifty looking blokes!
Are you following? I have to admit, I’m making it a little simpler than it actually was!
We then find Cinderella who is injured and taken off to hospital where her family comes to visit and her evil step mother tries to smother her with a pillow! The beaten up RAF ‘prince’ also arrives at the hospital, so confused and crazy that they instantly decided that electric shock treatment is needed. Then while recovering from these scenes we finally see Cinderella and her RAF ‘prince’ re-united, phew!
The final scene takes place at a railway station where Cinderella is leaving with her RAF ‘prince’ and says one final goodbye to her wheelchair bound father. All’s well that ends well!
To say I was moved by the experience would be an understatement. I was taken back to the 40s and felt the horror of what it must have been like living in London during the Blitz, while at the same time immersed in the amazing dancing and emotional music.
I think I may be hooked on ballet for sure now and I so want to see lots more!
Have you ever been to the ballet? Have you ever seen a Mathew Bourne’s ballet?
You can see a trailer for Mathew Bourne’s Cinderella here.