Air raid sirens wail as German fighter bombers whine overhead, ready to release their deadly charges: West End audiences for Matthew Bourne's Cinderella flinch in their seats as the show opens with a bang. This new version of the fairy tale is set in blitz-torn London during World War II, when plucky survivors (and low-life hucksters) danced to keep up their spirits. The real-life CaM de Paris, where Cinders goes to the ball, was hit by a wartime bomb just yards from where the Piccadilly Theatre stands today.
Bourne has placed his fantasy in the period when Soviet composer Sergei Prokofiev started writing his Cinderella ballet score. Prokofiev began as the Germans invaded Russia and finished it (for the Bolshoi Ballet) in 1945, after the war ended. While many choreographers have treated the music as though it were written for a fairy ballet, Bourne relishes reinterpreting well-known scores--and stories. He has already revamped The Nutcracker, La Sylphide, and Swan Lake for his own contemporary dance company, Adventures in Motion Pictures, snappily known as AMP.
Bourne's Swan Lake, with its male swans and readily recognizable royal family, became a West End hit last Christmas, toured to Los Angeles in April 1997, and is due to visit New York in 1998. Lead swan Adam Cooper, who switched his allegiance from the Royal to ANEP last year, stars in Cinderella, along with his girlfriend, Sarah Wildor, on leave of absence, from the Royal Ballet.
Cinders is a frumpy, bespectacled waif, abused by an ugly stepfamily, whose values include incest, promiscuity, and black marketeering. Queen of this nest of vipers is former ballerina, Lynn Seymour as the sozzled stepmother, Cruella and Crawford combined, Cinderella is rescued by her guardian angel (William Kemp), a palely glittering dandy in a three-piece suit. He watches over her as she falls in love with an injured RAF pilot (a mustachioed Cooper), just before a bomb falls on her.
Echoes of British wartime movies abound--in particular, Powell and Pressburger's Stairway to Heaven, with its hallucinating, brain-damaged pilot. Concussed Cinders and her shell-shocked flyer meet in their dreams in a haunted ballroom, where she is transformed into a Princess Di siren. On the stroke of twelve, she is carried away on a stretcher, leaving a glittering shoe behind.
Clutching onto the shoe as if to his sanity, Harry, the pilot, searches the Underground (as the London subway is known) for her--Orpheus looking for Eurydice. The lovers finally come face to face in a hospital ward, recognizing each other's true identities when they both put their specs on. The angel sees them off on their honeymoon at a railway station and turns to his next charge, a lonely woman at a tea table, abandoned after a brief encounter.
Bourne has created a musical without lyrics, telling a story through dance alone, with Lez Brotherston's stark sets and forties outfits providing an austere period atmosphere. The choreography, however, is undercharacterized--too thin to support rather too dense a plot. Cinderella's plight and personality are swamped by incident, even in Wildor's captivating performance. But the sweetly downbeat ending sends a moist-eyed audience home humming Prokofiev.
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|Title Annotation:||Piccadilly Theatre, London, England|
|Article Type:||Dance Review|
|Date:||Feb 1, 1998|
|Previous Article:||Here and now.|
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