Matthew Bourne has stated that his inspiration for “Cinderella” was the intensely rapturous score by Sergei Prokofiev written in 1946. His inspiration comes roaring to life in the beautifully live-captured streaming performance presented by the Center Theater Group, Produced by New Adventures and Illuminations productions and the BBC. This is a not to be missed masterwork of storytelling.
It’s hard to think of contemporary ballet companies without first thinking of Matthew Bourne. He has left an indelible print on the way dance-theater is presented. His ability to draw the viewer into his world is extraordinary and all too rare.
“Cinderella” is an old story with familiar precepts, which is why Bourne was drawn to the idea of restaging it in a new way. If the audience already understands the basic story it gives you freedom to innovate within those parameters. Innovate he does. Bourne has set this production smack in the midst of World War II in the heart of London during the Blitz.
Lez Brotherston’s gloriously inventive sets and costumes make clear the time and place in which we view the story. Here we meet Cinderella a winsome Ashley Shaw, living with her invalid Father, Alan Vincent, her wicked Stepmother, Michela Meazza, her two spoiled Stepsisters Stephanie Billers, and Nicole Kabera, and her three uproariously nasty Stepbrothers, Jackson Fisch, Stephan Murray and Daniel Wright. Each character is made abundantly and often hilariously clear by the nuanced choreography and the superb acting skills of these dancers. All except Cinderella, who is left sad and alone, receives an invitation to the “Party”. Lonely, she dances with her wheelchair bound father in a dance of immeasurable beauty and tenderness. When her Guardian “Angel” or “Fate” appears to her he sets her life on a new path, as an injured Pilot, the dashing Andrew Monaghan, arrives by chance at the door. For both, it is love at first sight.
Bourne’s dancers are always of the highest quality, not only are they superior technicians but all are capable of playing their character to the fullest. Many of the core dancers perform several parts and are equal to whatever is required. Yet standing above the rest is the breathtaking Liam Mower as “The Angel.” A former “Billy Elliot” Liam Mower, with the fate of all in his hands, commands the stage with his every move. Magisterial yet ominous you can’t take your eyes off of him.
Bourne has infused each Act with humor, pathos and romance. Every gesture has meaning, no comedic moment goes un-mined and every major character is fully developed. In the first act we have the ridiculous antics of the family, the sublime wheel chair dance and when Cinderella imagines her “Pilot, “ he comes to life as a puppet for a delightful duet.
Expert lighting by Neil Austen and Sound Design by Paul Groothius create the terrifying streets of London during an air raid as young Londoners make their way to the “Party,” and Act II.
During the war an underground nightclub was a casualty of the Blitz and all the patrons were killed. This haunting scene is what greets us as Act II opens. Bodies lie strewn among the debris of the “Café De Paris.” The fateful “Angel” resurrects the club goers and the “Party” resumes. Again, Bourne brings all his expertise to the scene and the “Party” becomes a romp. The choreography goes from eloquent to wild as the patrons look for love and get progressively more drunk. Cinderella’s sweeping entrance enthralls the room and the audience. Here the Pilot has his chance and he takes it in a romantic adagio. Again Bourne fills the stage with sweeping choreography and clever funny business until finally, all but Cinderella and the Pilot dance a riotous drunken Tango.
In the meanwhile Cinderella and the Pilot have found themselves alone. As midnight approaches, a sense of urgency fills the lovers as they dance an intense adagio. Summoned by the Angel Cinderella tears herself away and is caught in the Blitz. She is evacuated to the Red Cross leaving her bejeweled shoe behind in the ruble. Now the Pilot must find Cinderella setting up ACT III.
Though complicated ACT III is cleverly woven together. With ingenious use of the privacy screens at the Red Cross and splendidly executed choreography the lovers are reunited. Ultimately this is a fairy tale and as in any good fairy tale everyone finds their way and all live happily ever after. It is a satisfying end to a night of brilliant theater.
Center Theater Group will be presenting via streaming, Matthew Bourne’s production of “Romeo and Juliet” this February. A reviewer of this production wrote, “there are moments so stunning you might just forget to breathe.” I for one will be waiting with bated breath.
The Superlative Company Dancers are Reece Causton, Joao Carolino, Glenn Graham, Sophia Hurdley, Jack Jones, Kate Lyons, Jamie McDonald, Dominic North, Danny Ruebens, and Katie Webb.
To visit the Center Theatre Group website, click HERE.
To learn more about Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures and Illuminations, click HERE.
Written by Tam Warner for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Matthew Bourne’s “Cinderella” – Andrew Monaghan as Harry, Ashley Shaw as Cinderella and The Company – Photo: Johan Persson