Matthew Bourne’s ‘Cinderella’ is a gripping and evocative love story set in London against the backdrop of the Second World War. In keeping with the ballet’s theme, the characters of the classic fairy-tale have been cleverly recast – the Prince becomes wounded RAF pilot Harry, the Fairy Godmother a male Angel, a mysterious celestial being clad in a metallic white suit. Reminiscent of a 1940s Hollywood classic, it appears that ‘midnight’ is Bourne’s finest hour.
The threat of war remains at the forefront of the production, its consequences evident both visibly and audibly. The sound of sirens and exploding shells pervade Prokofiev’s magnificent score, whilst holographic planes fly over London’s skyline, the result a ballet cinematic in scope.
Lez Brotherston‘s extensive and detailed period sets transport us from the London Underground to the Thames Embankment, to the glittering Café de Paris, their transition awe-inspiring. Favouring a dull colour palette, particularly in his design of the ballet’s domestic interiors, Brotherston tactfully intersperses this darkness with moments of intense colour and vibrancy, proving that love, and life, can be found in the darkest of times. This fine balance between light and dark, a reflection of the age-old battle between good and evil prominent in the classic fairy-tale, represents here the very nature of war – two opposing sides locked in a state of conflict, victory a matter of life and death. Therefore, despite its loose grounding in fantasy, Bourne’s stirring retelling is steeped in a poignant reality.
The ballroom sequence, the ballet’s pièce de résistance, transports us to the ill-fated Café de Paris (famously bombed in 1941). Reduced to rubble, the Angel restores the collapsed set and raises its dancers, who keep calm and carry on despite the relentless bombardment above their heads. Throughout the scene Bourne explores, and indeed celebrates, different types of love, although all similarly fall victim to the brutal impartiality of time.
In a compassionate extension of the all-too-fleeting nature of wartime romances, Bourne grants Harry and Cinderella an evening together at the former’s lodgings, and they seize this moment, never knowing which might be their last. An intimate and sensual pas-de-deux follows, the deep red lighting symbolic of their mature love. The two dancers share a breathtaking chemistry, the fragility of their relationship evident in their performances, as they strive to make the most of the present.
Conveying a story so vividly without the power of speech is no mean feat, yet one Bourne’s company, New Adventures, accomplish effortlessly. Their characterisation powerful and animated, they hypnotize the audience with their remarkable stage presence. Ashley Shaw dances the titular role beautifully, her elegant fluidity drawing the eye. Andrew Monaghan skilfully captures the essence of shell-shocked pilot Harry, his performance the embodiment of chivalric grace, tinged with an acute vulnerability. Liam Mower mesmerises as the Angel with his ethereal movement, whilst Anjali Mehra dominates as wicked stepmother Sybil. Enchanting performances from a highly accomplished set of dancers.
Matthew Bourne‘s transcendent choreography is a work of unrivalled brilliance. There’s a wonderful modernity, one might go so far as to say a relevance, to the movement he creates, lending to the production a uniqueness lacking from the classical ballets audiences are so used to seeing. His approach to storytelling radical and fresh, Bourne is single-handedly revolutionising the art of dance, an extraordinary accomplishment. In fact, the bigger accomplishment would be in finding a ballet to rival this one.
At the heart of this production is a touching wartime romance, one that resonates with audiences old and new. A haunting requiem to a timeless classic, Bourne’s exquisite production is a powerful testament to the future of dance.