Set in 1940 in London and combining Hollywood glitz with wartime drab, this Blitz-era ballet is steeped in tenebrous nostalgia and inspired by British movies like A Matter of Life and Death and Waterloo Bridge.
Mousy and bespectacled, Cinders dotes on her father whenever she is not being harassed by her stepmother and extended family of three stepbrothers and two stepsisters. Too many characters threaten to spoil the plot.
Premiered 20 years ago, Bourne’s conceptually brilliant ballet has undergone some reworking to tighten up the story. Swing and jive happily co-exists with neo-classical ballet and it is stuffed with invention – like the mini-Conga involving Cinderella and five servicemen and Cinders’ duet with a tailor’s dummy that evolves into a stiff-limbed airman.
Design-wise this could be Lez Brotherston’s finest hour as the sets shift from monochrome domestic interiors to glittering dance hall and on to the London Underground and the Thames Embankment. The piece de resistance is Act II’s bombing of the Cafe de Paris as the set reconstructs itself, reversing the destruction like a rewinding movie and the dead rise to dance again. It is ironic that the most spectacular act should also prove the least satisfactory as it is here that the narrative trips over the characters and falls flat.
Locating the elements of romantic doom within Prokofiev’s score, Bourne invokes a society dancing on the edge of a precipice. Michela Meazza vamps it up mercilessly as the Stepmother, channelling Joan Crawford through Cruella de Vil, while Ashley Shaw brings an alluring vulnerability to Cinderella whether fending off a creepy foot fetishist stepbrother or clinging in post-coital surrender to the wounded pilot Harry (the Damian Lewis-like Andrew Monaghan).
Introduced by the white satin-suited fairy godfather her entrance down the staircase of the Cafe de Paris is Ginger Rogers/Eleanor Parker glamorous. Evocative, spectacular and very, very loud, this is Bourne at his most Barnum-like.