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Cinderella English National Ballet

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English National Ballet

Oxford, UK

November 27 – 29

Cinderella Choreographed by Michael Corder

First let me start off by announcing that Michael Corder and I were in Joffrey Ballet together and that I have a good friend in the company corps de ballet. I danced Ben Stevenson’s Cinderella while with Houston and have that love for it as it was my first principal role there. So, with that in mind please excuse a first effort at writing about ballet.

Cinderella is well known to me through Walt Disney, Rogers and Hammerstein, and of course the British versions of Ashton and Stevenson. Michael Corder feels some of these influences, the stepmother in the tradition of Disney villainesses and the uses of Prince’s friends for the stepsisters at the ball, yet tells it his way. The stepsisters are danced by women, the dancing master attends the ball, and the usual theatrical tricks (flash pots for the fairy godmother’s entrance, for example) are done away with. The seasonal fairies, their cavaliers and a tutu corps of celestials are seen throughout the ballet as the undercurrent that carries the day. Nature supports true love.

The ballet begins with Cinderella in the kitchen alone looking at the moon. She begins cleaning up, with a broom bought at Marks and Sparks – cannot they make a period one? The stepsisters arrive to mock, play and intimidate. Among the casts, they are played as younger brats to older spinsters feeding off each other’s unpleasantness. Tall and short become spacy (Grahn) and feisty (Cerrito). I thought that I preferred the drag sisters, but Mr. Corder and the dancers taught me otherwise. Fairy godmother arrives not via the fireplace but through the front door and is gracious throughout.

The ballroom is standard fair with the corps looking wonderful in sweeping patterns and steps that play with the music rather than follow it. I liked that the Prince’s friends arrive first to deter the stepsisters and they are handsome young men. Cinderella arrives via the fairy cavaliers and her arrival is marked by the celestials and seasonal fairies. For my taste, there is not enough simplicity in the moment of meeting the Prince nor exploration of the first moments of the relationship.

The third act begins with the Prince searching throughout the world. (While this scene is in the musical score, I prefer to cut to the Kitchen.) Mr. Corder does introduce the stepsisters as Princesses from Spain and the Orient, who seduce him, almost. There is another Oriental Princess as well. Back in the kitchen, Cinderella reminisces, the sisters tease and all are a twit as the Prince comes with the shoe (grey in Act II and the beginning of Act III, now pink). The shoe fits and a brief pas introduces more celestials, fairies and the like. Here these characters act as an anti-climax. I wish that Cindy and her Prince had a full blown pas. They do kiss, wonderfully dependent on cast, and one is in love with both of them, so the story wins.

My bias in story ballets is for dancers to tell the story first and “strut the stuff” second. I want a fully developed role that starts and grows as the story warrants. I saw four principal casts.

English National Ballet has a diverse group of dancers from all the major styles and this diversity showed in the principal couples’ performances. Agnes Oaks and Thomas Edur gave the most thoughtful and technically strong performance overall. If one has a chance to see these two, grab it. She is blond and he is gorgeous. He was a Prince, royal at birth. The small touches were there as was attention to the details in between that make one believe in the story. Both are Vaganova trained, from Estonia, and open giving dancers.

Sarah Mcllroy, formerly Royal, and Jan-Erik Wikstrom, formerly Royal Swedish, gave the most natural performance. They acted in the British tradition without pretension, with eye contact and involved all around them. Unfortunately Ms. Mcllroy had some trouble with the Act II variation, a killer, but I enjoyed her dancing. She moves large. Mr. Wikstrom was a magnificent partner and danced his variation well.

Less successful in my opinion were the other couples. Erina Takahashi, ENB grown, was technically flawless, and her acting was good; genuine and exact. Her Prince, Vladislav Bubnov, formerly Bolshoi, was distracted by the choreography and seemed more concerned with doing his steps exactly than falling for the girl. The chemistry was forced. Ms. Takashi grew on me throughout the evening and again on a second viewing. I wish to see her with a partner rather than a fellow dancer. The last, actually first that I saw, were Elena Glurdjidze, Vaganova trained, and Dmitri Gruzdyev, formerly of the Kirov. Ms. Glurdjidze started well, her first act was the best, but as she met the Prince, there began trouble in Paradise. Mr. Gruzdyev is the most physically gifted among the men that I saw, but his performance seemed to me phoned in. The choreography for the man and the pas de deux are not in the broad classical style of the Petipa ballets and perhaps he missed the opportunity to open his technique.

I had a great time seeing five performances of the same ballet in a row. Soloist roles were danced by my friend, so I have not reviewed them. But the quality of dancing was strong throughout.

One last note, there is a fantastic young man, Fernando Bufala, that I enjoyed watching in class, on stage and hope to see dance again. The company is lovely, well coached by David Wall and is meant to be seen. They are in London with Cinderella and Nutcracker this December and January in Hammersmith.

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Thank you!!! This was fun to read, Michael -- I can't believe you got so much in!! (everything that's important; you have a future here :wub: )

I've been curious about this Cinderella, and about Michael Corder's choreography generally. I'd seen some tapes of his early work and liked it. Curious, too, about Oakes and Edur -- they'rer Britain's secret superstar couple. Not secret to Londoners, of course, but one doesn't read much about them in American magazines.

And -- wonderful to hear that David Wall is coaching.

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I missed the triple bill with Corder's latest piece. I find him musical and his pas de deux choreography good, if derivative of his predecessors, MacMillian and Ashton. That only makes sense though. The dancers seem to love working with him and he has a great feel for the stage as a whole.

The theater in Oxford is owned by ClearChannel - it seems they are everywhere! But at least ballet was on (CATS was next though!).

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Michael, thankyou for your long review - it's always interesting to read how someone looking at a company with fresh eyes sees them.

I saw Corder's Cinderella in London this week for the first time in a few years. Although overall I think it's a well-crafted and interesting approach, I do think it's 'overwritten' - he seems to think we'll get bored if he doesn't stuff every bar of music with as many steps as it can possibly take. For instance Cinderella has a very, very long solo in the first act which must be absolutely exhausting for her - but it doesn't seem to mean anything, and long before the end our eyes get tired of the constant busy-ness. The last scene is very pretty, though, and the whole thing makes a very interesting contrast to the Ashton version, which the Royal Ballet are doing over Christmas.

Oaks and Edur were in the leads, with Daria Klimentova as a charming Fairy Godmother, Yosvani Ramos shining as the Dancing Master, and the very appealling Begona Cao as the Summer Fairy.

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Age Oks and Toomas Edur (as their names are in Estonian) flew to Tartu, Estonia for this weekend's I.D.A. (International Dance Activity) festival. They will be back dancing in London on Wednesday.

Estonians are very eager to see them at the festival, where they will be dancing, among other works, Wayne McGregor's "2Human". Principals and other dancers from the Royal Danish Ballet, Latvian National Ballet, Finnish National Ballet, Estonian National Ballet, Tartu's Vanemuine Theatre Ballet, as well as students from the Tallinn Ballet School are also performing.

Toomas Edur performed one of his own choreographic pieces in May, at the Linbury studio in London. Called "If", it commemorates the death of his mother, who died in the "Estonia" ferry disaster Sept. 28, 1994. It is choreographed to music his mother liked, that of 19th century Italian composer Alfredo Catalani.

Thank you, Michael, for your review of Age's and Toomas' performance in Cinderella!

BTW, in Estonian, "Oks" means branch, so the change of last name to "Oaks" is not too far off the mark! :D

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I deliberately avoided the Oaks/Edur partnership. I find the edge has gone from his dancing and he relies a little too much on his good looks and smile. It's as if he has started to believe all the nice things written about him. There was a time though when he probably was the best classical male dancer in the UK - his last performance with Birmingham Royal Ballet as Oberon in The Dream was memorable. She I find a nice dancer, but not in the same class as he was at his best and more suited to demi-charactere or soubrette roles.

I agree with Jane about Corder's Cinderella. There are more steps than you can shake a stick at and the evening seems endless. The ballets of his that I've enjoyed most are either pure dance works (for which he has a real gift) or short pieces with an underlying theme or mood. Problem is that companies and theatre managements demand stories.

I saw the Glurdjidze/Gruzdeyev pairing; very much on form with lovely dancing and really committed performances from both. I'm sory mbjerk caught them on an off night. He really is quite special and a real tribute to Vaganova schooling. She is quite simply a charmer with plenty of technique to back it up.

But I think the most impressive thing about this company is how these dancers, coming from a wide variety of backgrounds have been welded into a real company and how you can watch them grow progress from season to season. That I think is a big tribute to the ballet staff, David Wall in particular - and of course to Matz Skoog for giving them opportunities.

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