Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre, Auckland
Reviewed August 10.
For Royal New Zealand Ballet, Australian-born Loughlan Prior has choreographed a version of Cinderella that is quite startlingly different from anything we might have seen before. To a certain extent it does follow the familiar story of Cinderella, her Step-sisters and Step-mother, the attendance at a royal ball and Cinderella’s eventual marriage. But Prior has looked beyond and beneath the well-worn narrative and has created a ballet that investigates the notion of having the courage to follow one’s dreams and desires in whatever form they may take.
Perhaps the major change Prior has made concerns sexual orientation. Prince Charming doesn’t fall in love with and marry Cinderella. He is attracted to and finds happiness with another man, Prince Dashing, from a neighbouring kingdom. As for Cinderella, the shoe lost at the ball does fit her, but she doesn’t marry the Prince. She finds her happiness with the Royal Messenger, who initially comes to the door of her home with invitations to the ball and who reappears in her life at various times.
The choreography covers a range of styles from classical (or perhaps neo-classical is a more appropriate description) to the crazed disco-style, alcohol-infused, drug-induced movement in the final "Happily ever after" scene. Highly memorable are the three duets between Cinderella (Mayu Tanigaito) and the Royal Messenger (Laurynas Vejalis), which grow in intensity as their relationship blossoms, and the duets between Prince Charming (Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson) and Prince Dashing (Shae Berney) in which Prior shows, in choreographic terms, an equality between the two men.
One of the great strengths of the work is the way in which Prior has developed the various characters. As a result, the dancers rose to the occasion with extraordinarily strong performances. Vejalis stood out for me as the Royal Messenger. He held his body proudly and there was just a subtle lift of the chin and a lilt in his walk that gave him a charm that was somehow quite seductive. No wonder Cinderella fell for him. I also enjoyed the performance by Paul Mathews as Cinderella’s father. The role of the father is often not well-developed in Cinderella productions but in Loughlin's version we understand his plight and rejoice when Cinderella comes to his rescue and allows him the freedom to be a well and happy man once more. Ana Gallardo Lobaina was a vindictive Step-mother and her performance drew out the character's spiteful, hateful nature.
I enjoyed the full-of-fun scene when Cinderella chooses the dress that she is to wear to the ball and the final moments when she is lifted off the floor and rises into the space above wearing the magnificent, Spanish-style, golden gown of Emma Kingsbury’s design. But perhaps the most moving scene is that when Cinderella and Prince Charming are alone on stage, each dancing separately and each recalling the lives into which they have been drawn and from which they long to escape.
The score for this Cinderella was commissioned from Claire Cowan, who has worked before with Prior and with whom he shares a strong collaborative aesthetic. It too is diverse in musical styles and influences. It has a strong percussion component and a lot of brass, but at times looks back to medieval sounds, Baroque court dances and a host of other new and old styles.
Prior’s Cinderella moves the audience well into the present day. Purists may be shocked. Others may relish the move. Several people in the row in front of mine didn’t return after interval, but on several occasions throughout the evening large sections of the audience spontaneously started clapping along with the rhythms of the music and the dancing.
But on the other hand, the work also looks back and uses allusions of many kinds to deepen an understanding of the themes and ideas contained within the ballet. Prior calls this work "maximalist" and it certainly isn’t minimalist, not choreographically, not musically, not thematically, not in design which included some great visual effects, not in any way. But only several viewings would allow an audience to appreciate the extraordinary diversity of ideas that fill the work. There is no doubt that we will never see another Cinderella like this one.
– MICHELLE POTTER
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