December is a month of multitudes. For some, it’s exam season; others see in it the close of the waning year; for the Scottish Ballet, it’s time for the sparkle and shine of the Christmas ballet. This year, it’s Christopher Hampson’s Cinderella, and it summons up all the magic and glitter that enchants children and grown-ups alike.
Lights go up on Cinderella (Sophie Martin), kneeling at her mother’s grave. The set is magical and expressionistic, using design reminiscent of van Gogh’s ‘The Bedroom’. Set design centres heavily on the imagery of roses. The flower adorns Martin’s tutu, stands in for the moon, and ultimately proves the key of Cinderella’s deliverance into the arms of her Prince (Barnaby Rook-Bishop). Its presence throughout the piece is a comforting one, and cleverly steers the aesthetic of the performance.
Indeed, it is clear how much work went into the design of the ballet. Tracy Grant Lord’s costumes are utterly stunning. From the step-sisters’ floating technicolour pieces and the spiders’ glistening coats in the first act, to the roses’ intricately thorny dresses in the second, these outfits whisk away the audience with their magic. Many a child left the theatre wishing to be dressed up in the same shimmering shoes as Cinderella was.
Martin’s dancing in the titular role was truly wonderful. She moves with a flowing grace that belies the hours of practice that go into such a performance. She and Rook-Bishop perfectly embody that love for life that is so clear in both characters from the outset. Their joy when dancing together is palpable, and makes the storytelling all the more effective.
Audience members particularly enjoyed the graceless antics of the step-sisters (Kayla-Maree Tarantolo and Grace Horler), whose bold colours and sharp edges never failed to draw a laugh. Beyond the clear comic factor that they provide, both dancers manage to create reasonably well-rounded characters whose motivations for their odious behaviour become clear as the show progresses. It’s satisfying that Tarantolo’s character is allowed a happy ending alongside Cinderella, as we’re made to empathise with her clumsiness and her naive mimicking of her elder sister’s behaviour.
Christopher Hampson’s choreography is masterful and clever, creating both art and character in every dance. Little moments stand out to colour in the personalities of the dancers, such as the Prince’s friends (Evan Loudon and Thomas Edwards) kicking out a foot and ‘accidentally’ knocking Horler over.
Perhaps the only criticism I can offer of the choreography is ballet’s tendency to allow female dancers to take centre stage. During the dance by the Prince and Cinderella, the Prince often falls back as a supporting prop for Cinderella’s leaps and bounds. Whilst these are undeniably beautiful, I would have liked to see more from the Prince in order to portray the bond he shares with Cinderella. This is shown well in the final dance, but could have featured more in the second act.
On an analytical note, the piece makes good use of costume and storytelling to raise points about class and family. Cinderella is the embodiment of goodness and optimism, in contrast to her step-family and drunken father. She also wears pointe shoes throughout the ballet, where her step-sisters must put them on in quite the act of performative beauty. That Cinderella’s innate strength, tenacity, and good nature are evident throughout is a mark of powerful, subtle storytelling that my English literature brain was delighted to pick up on.
Ultimately, this is a glorious way to ring in Christmas, Hanukkah, the New Year, whatever holiday you celebrate (or don’t)! In the wake of longer nights, the Scottish Ballet strive to shine light into the hearts of their audience members, and this year’s production does just that. I left with the thrum of magic in my heart, and the desire to be a princess fully and irrevocably awoken once more.
PHOTOS: Andy Ross