New Adventures’ Cinderella is like a Broadway show without the singing. Or a cinematic experience without the big screen. Or a (mostly accurate) history lesson without the books. Basically, it’s challenging to categorize. And perhaps that was Matthew Bourne’s intention when he re-imagined this classic story of the underappreciated girl living unfortunate circumstances whose life turns around one day and eventually discovers romance and well…the ubiquitous happily ever after.
Throughout the performance, there is no questioning the setting; 1940s London at the time of the famous Blitz was a dreary and chaotic moment in the history of that city, and the music, scenery, and costuming consistently remind us of that. For those who are more familiar with the ballet Cinderella, it is a curious exploration to hear Prokofiev’s classical score in such an ominous tone. Bourne has used the piece interestingly, at times overlaying it with sound effects – sirens squealing, bombs exploding, dogs barking. At moments, the auditory experience is more similiar to one at an IMAX rather than an opera house; it is unclear whether this is intentional or if it was a technical aspect that requires some adjustment. Many of the scenes are displayed in blacks, whites, and dreary hues of war-time gray allowing for the moments of joyful, colorful contrast to be effective.
Speaking of contrast, there seems to be little of that in regards to pace. The entire evening feels frenetic, including the choreography. Liam Mower plays the role of The Angel (replacing the more familiar Fairy Godmother) and is the star of the show. His dancing is beautiful – his technique clean (his Royal Ballet School training obvious), his timing intelligent, and his acting extroverted without being pushy. Yet in moments of musical adagio, it would have been rewarding and satisfying to have seen physical movements that were better aligned. Another example is in Cinderella and Harry, The Pilots’ (essentially, the Prince) “bedroom scene”. Ashley Shaw and Andrew Monaghan are the cast lovers who wonderfully portray the sweet, enamored couple. One would imagine that their love scene would convey this intimacy, but the passion comes off as a bit forced – almost violent. Perhaps this is interpretation, but my inclination is to believe the choreography is guiding it in this particular direction. On the flip side, the ensemble dancing is thoughtfully created and executed. It is lovely seeing a company so well-rehearsed.
Bourne has designed an impressive production, both in scale and artistically. The sets and props are gorgeous and dramatic, and the character study is detailed and profound. Cinderella can be seen at The Kennedy Center through January 20, 2019.