sat 26/09/2020

Cinderella, English National Ballet, London Coliseum | reviews, news & interviews

Cinderella, English National Ballet, London Coliseum

Cinderella, English National Ballet, London Coliseum

A 20-year-old and a 38-year-old in remarkable harmony

English National Ballet turns 60 next week, and nowadays just enduring has to be enough. Smelling of greasepaint and tour buses from the very first, it also smelled of stars - Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin who began it, Rudolf Nureyev and Natalia Makarova who created splendid productions for it, and extraordinary late-career performances by Lynn Seymour. Stars have been born in ENB too, even if they burst into full gleam elsewhere - Trinidad Sevillano, Tamara Rojo, and more than likely the young lad who is ENB’s latest find, Vadim Muntagirov, who danced last night in Cinderella.

This Cinderella pops up in the flat part of summer just after the Bolshoi and in a dicky time for dance funding, but Michael Corder’s ballet is smart and well achieved, and serves the company very well for its opening salvo of celebrations. Better than that, it allows a further showing of the remarkably interesting new partnership of May and September between 20-year-old Muntagirov and 38-year-old Daria Klimentova, a partnership that might yet become something people will hurry to ENB specifically to see.

Muntagirov (pictured below right by Pedro Laperta/ENB) is a Perm and Royal Ballet School graduate of fine proportions, elegant intentions and a true communication with his ballerina, a genuine prince on stage. Klimentova, whose career had seemed to be flattening off without the stimulation of new rep or partners, looks like a ship that has found a sweet new wind. Her long-limbed body, always of great beauty in classical work, now bends and yields with a tender warmth and open emotion that lifts her from a pleasing and accomplished dancer to a considerable artist. As Cinderella her arms perfectly outline Corder’s poetic motif for her, the crescent moon, and her face registers shadows of private suffering.

Muntagirov_ENB_PedroLapetraCorder is no great characteriser, but he does know how to construct ballet architecture, and the Act Two ball is his work at its best. His decision to make the Stepsisters nasty, bullying girls, rather than curious travesti men, robs them of pathos and much of the potential comedy, but last night’s performers, Sarah McIlroy and Adela Ramirez, know these roles inside-out and milk them of every conceivable flounce and sulk.

The late David Walker's designs are staid and skimp on magic in Act One; the ball scene, though, all ink-blue and chandeliers, is vastly better, and allows Cinderella to arrive in her silvery tutu like the full moon in the night, sailing in on the arms of fairy attendants. From that point on Corder has a purple patch of choreography, layering the ranks of courtiers, fairies, stepsisters in fluidly expressive classical hierarchy, capped by an aristocratic and very lovely pas de deux for Cinderella and the Prince which Klimentova and Muntagirov polished into a transport of love.

Other areas fare less well, the over-politeness of Act One, particularly of the Fairy Seasons, Fairy Godmother (the sweet Begona Cao) and a disappointing Waltz of the Stars and climax (no pumpkin, no transformation). Act Three is too long, with a muddle of the Prince doing the rounds of strange women as he searches for Cinderella - a dramatic problem in every Cinderella except Ashton’s, where he cheerfully took shears to it.

Gavin Sutherland conducted with fervour, doing his best with the sow’s ear that is the ENB Orchestra string section and some unreliable brass. For the next six months they have little but Prokofiev to play - next season is Nureyev's Romeo and Juliet - and those violins and brass are going to have try much harder to make a genuine celebration for ENB, which in truth has a lot to worry about.

Behind the congratulations, this is a company that's become artistically anorexic over the past decade, starved of  stimulation. It's bureaucratically hitched to a populist agenda that has robbed it of its old guts and ambition. The 60th birthday nostalgia fest reminds us that ENB used to be a buccaneering must-see, must-join company. Now it's the staidest pensioner in British ballet.

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