Norwich Theatre Royal claimed another first yesterday with the premiere of an enchanting new ballet production from English Youth Ballet (EYB). I am not sure who in EYB had the stroke of genius to set Cinderella in the glamourous world of 1950s Hollywood, but it really works well. Cinderella is a story with some strong female characters and with this re-interpretation the company have been able to happily fill the stage with the ‘cast of thousands’ as you might expect in a Hollywood Busby Berkeley dance spectacular.
The English Youth Ballet combine some of our leading professional dancers with locally sourced younger performers to great effect. Tonight Monica Tapiador took the leading role as Cinderella, with Oliver Speers as Prince Henri. Their romance is portrayed in the style of Grace Kelly marrying Prince Rainier of Monaco with more than a nod to our more recent royal nuptials. They were never quite thwarted in their lovemaking by the jealous older sisters, with Julianne Rice-Oxley as Marigold and Steven Wheeler thoroughly enjoying himself as Christabel. Steven looks as though he is about nine feet tall in his heels when set amongst the many younger dancers in some of the set piece routines but he adds a great comic character to the ballet pantheon. The professional cast are completed by Brendan Bratulic as the girls’ Father with Philip Tunstall as The Film Director and Claire Corruble as the Mother – the updated Fairy Godmother.
The theme allows for magnificent costumes, and designer Keith Bish has contributed an elegant, dazzling and colourful set of outfits for this huge cast. The bright colours and jazzy prints of the ensemble dancers are particularly good. In modern life children are often invisible and hidden from public view, but this ballet gives them a chance to show off their talents while wearing the finest of stage outfits as they are dressed to impress.
For this first ever performance some first night nerves could be expected, but the complex dance routines all went well and the younger performers generally mastered the tricky timing of the Hollywood routines with the same skill as their professional counterparts, gaining enthusiastic applause from the audience which no doubt featured a family member or two! The dances allowed some pastiche of silent movie stars and themes from the Keystone Cops to ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’ and ‘Tea for Two’.
The music soundtrack features familiar themes from Gershwin, Jerome Kern and others and has the feel of a dance band playing in a large hall, sometimes even reminding me of the distant memory of listening to dance music on an old valve radio. While some of the music almost feels like the background music of a 1970s airport there are many more familiar tunes to trigger a warm nostalgia. The music is particularly suited to the balletic re-interpretations of some of the silent-film era comedy routines featured.
The many attractive elements of this production combine to produce a whole that is almost unbearably charming and a worthy new entry to the world of ballet compositions. Director Janet Lewis would be right to feel very proud of this work and her company that have helped to bring it to stage. With just three shows in Norwich you will have to travel on to another venue to catch this show now, but it would certainly be worth the journey to see this engaging and accomplished work.
© Julian Swainson 2018