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Not your basic fairy tale.

Cinderella * Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles (through May 23) * Directed and choreographed by Matthew Bourne * Starring Adam Cooper, Sarah Wildor, and Will Kemp

After his homoerotic Swan Lake, choreographer Matthew Bourne evokes the ravages of World War II in Cinderella

Matthew Bourne, the gay English choreographer whose Swan Lake put hairy-chested swans in every living room in America, has returned to these shores with a dazzling modern-dress version of another ballet classic, Cinderella, and if the results are somewhat less fleshy and Freudian than its notorious predecessor, this latest effusion from Bourne's superb company, Adventures in Motion Pictures, is no less unorthodox and provocative.

Set amid the London rubble during the World War II blitz, this Cinderella, introduced in London's West End in 1997, has found a home away from home at Los Angeles's Ahmanson Theatre, where artistic director Gordon Davidson put his reputation with his board on the line before the American premiere of Swan Lake two years ago ("Guys dancing around in feathers to Tchaikovsky? You must be kidding"). This time there will be less consternation, less skin, and a bit more mystification. Everybody may know the basics of the Cinderella story, but no single dance version of that ballet is as familiar as the Swan Lake that Bourne so cunningly transgressed in the earlier piece; he was free here to go his own way.

What the two productions share, however, is an almost hallucinatory quality in the storytelling. The characters aren't so much propelled by the narrative as trapped in it. What drew Bourne to the era of the Battle of Britain was Sergei Prokofiev's score, written during the same period, during the most stressful days of the war. The music is among the Russian composer's darkest and most troubled creations; most choreographers working on Cinderella simply ignore that tone and deliver indifferent ballets.

At the Ahmanson, searchlights rather than fairy wings illuminate the night sky; the sound of bombs prefaces each of the three acts; air-raid alert signs flash in Lez Brotherston's award-winning, stunningly conceived designs. The heroine--danced by the exquisite Sarah Wildor, on loan from London's Royal Ballet--is a dreamy, kindhearted, bespectacled slavey in a household teeming with Bright Young Things and hints of pansexual pastimes, all under the thumb of a socialclimbing gorgon of a stepmother. And Cinderella's prince has become Harry, a shell-shocked Royal Air Force pilot who stumbles into her house during a blackout and emerges clutching one of the jeweled pumps that Cinderella has temporarily pinched from the stepmother. In the role of Harry, Adam Cooper, the hunky chief swan of Swan Lake, is barely recognizable behind the David Niven mustache.

It is the world of Noel Coward and Evelyn Waugh on the brink of dissolution, a society determined to dance its way to the edge among the falling bombs. Cinderella's fairy godmother has become a guardian angel (Will Kemp) with bleached hair and shiny white suit; he escorts her to the ball in a motorcycle sidecar as gas-masked air-raid wardens comb the debris for bodies. A bomb ends the festivities at midnight, and Harry seeks the owner of the jeweled shoe through the streets and Underground stations, only to be reconciled with his true love in a convalescent home.

Bourne's most striking innovation is the second act, where he flirts with a cinematic dream structure. The cheesy dance hall through which Londoners romp seems to resurrect itself from the ashes at the beginning, and Cinderella fantasizes herself onto the dance floor and into bed with her swain. The result is a sweeping postcoital duet that leavens Bourne's satirical group numbers with a sweet sincerity. In case you didn't guess it from Swan Lake, this is one dance maker who puts his heart where his sole is.

Ulrich is the dance and classical-music critic for the San Francisco Examiner.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Ulrich, Allan
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Dance Review
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:May 25, 1999
Previous Article:Pulitzer surprise.
Next Article:Twist and shout.

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