Cinderella, set in the Blitz? What seems like an initially challenging concept to imagine is proven to not just work, but enchant. Matthew Bourne (as a known producer of subverted classical ballet) shines the light on ballet’s interesting flexibility as an ever-prevalent art form. Cinderella dazzles in its glass slippers. Set to a score by Prokofiev – who composed the score for the original Frederick Ashton version for The Royal Ballet – Bourne has made few alterations, with the final act entirely the same as the original. It does makes you wonder: what made the fairy-tale score have dark undertones? As Bourne notes, “Prokofiev had actually written the score during the Second World War” (with the first performance being premiered in 1946), inspiring Bourne to set the classic fairy-tale in this time: a “dark part of history” (as Bourne notes in an interview for the show), provoking the score.
Undoubtedly, Bourne’s adaptation further takes inspiration from classic films, including A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Waterloo Bridge (1940), and Brief Encounter (1945), of which the latter is particularly apparent in the final railway scene. Bourne’s Cinderella is cinematic through the use of projection on stage, which gives the feel of actually being in a cinema, particularly in the opening to the ballet with the added voyeuristic touch of a spotlighted crowd of the performers beneath the projection. Complementing this is the atmosphere created in the theatre itself; with air-raid sirens surging during intervals and the sound of planes rushing overhead in surround-sound, you truly feel as if you are in 1940s Britain. Further, the cinematic quality of the piece is established with the use of projected rain over a transparent screen, which the dancers are behind; this leads to the impressive staging and use of set which seems innovative to “traditional ballet”. Clearly, and this isn’t just my film-loving perspective, you are encompassed in cinematic techniques. In such a “traditional” art form as ballet, this re-establishes ballet as a flexible and interesting modern medium.
this re-establishes ballet as a flexible and interesting modern medium
Reinforcing the ballet’s cinematic quality in the most striking way is the use of grey costumes and colour lighting. The grey-scale created with all the characters’ costumes produces a feel of classic black-and-white cinema, furthering the influence of Brief Encounter amongst other films that Bourne takes inspiration from. However, this greyness is given light, literally, through lighting that colours in the scenes and gives them life. Exceptionally, the ghostly waltzing dance in London’s Café de Paris (where a large number of young people partied and which received a direct hit during the Blitz, killing at least 34 people) is coloured in splotches of red, whites, and blues when revived from the dead, providing light in black-out London.
Whether you are into ballet or not, this performance is definitely worth getting your critical teeth into. The dancing was en-pointe (not literally), with the outstanding factor being the cleverly paired cinematic techniques and ballet. Bourne’s adaptation does not eradicate tradition; rather, he repurposes (just as with Prokofiev’s score) ballet for our modern culture of multi-media art forms.