It is three years since Scottish Ballet gave the European premiere of Christopher Hampson’s Cinderella, in this same theatre; the work having been made for Royal New Zealand Ballet, in 2007. These ballet companies are of a similar size (Scottish Ballet has 40 dancers; RNZB, 34) and Hampson’s production is cleverly crafted to suit such a mid-scale ensemble, whilst (mostly) evoking the magical sparkle of spectacle that must be expected from every Cinderella. That miserly parenthetical qualification is entirely due to the uninspiring transformation that ends act one. Cinderella’s metamorphosis from scullery skivvy to mysterious princess seems hastily achieved and her transport to the ball is via an unremarkable carriage, pushed (seemingly laboriously) by a motley pair of insects.       

Roses in Scottish Ballet's <i>Cinderella</i> © Andy Ross
Roses in Scottish Ballet's Cinderella
© Andy Ross

Hampson augments the first act by inserting a prologue in a rain-soaked graveyard – vaguely reminiscent of the opening to Mayerling – concluded by Cinderella planting a rose by her mother’s grave, thereafter nurtured into magnificence by her tears. This motif of the natural world – roses, trees and roots - dominates the impressive art nouveau set designs of Tracy Grant Lord; and it accounts for the insects.    

Momentum and contrast are customary in Hampson choreographies and I suspect that this consistency is due to his capacity for integrating - so completely and with such assurance - the diverse skills of dramaturgy and direction with his elite talent as a choreographer; all aligned with that rarest of attributes – a self-edit “button”. His dance drives the narrative – with clever character tropes – and is intuitively married to Prokofiev’s seductive score. No ballroom clock warns of the impending midnight transformation but, there is no need, since the imagery of time passing (so effectively represented by the composer) is also regularly referenced in the clock face motifs punctuating the stylish movement.

Barnaby Rook and Sophie Martin in Scottish Ballet's <i>Cinderella</i> © Andy Ross
Barnaby Rook and Sophie Martin in Scottish Ballet's Cinderella
© Andy Ross

Several such narrative devices flesh out nuances of this intriguing take on a much-loved story.   The symbolic purity of the rose (the graveyard becoming a rose garden) draws a silk thread around the triumvirate of goodness in Cinderella, her mother and the maternal spirit represented by the traditional figure of the fairy godmother (elegantly portrayed by Araminta Wraith). The rose garden also provides an uplifting contrast to the sadness of the prologue with an epilogue that confirms the happy-ever-afterness for Cinderella and her Prince in their concluding pas de deux.    

The mother’s love is, of course, replaced by the wickedness of a spiteful stepmother (Marge Hendrick in fine form), which is vanquished not only by magic and romance, but also by humour. Hampson’s step-sisters are not “ugly” (thank goodness); they bear no names and are distinguished simply by reference to their respective heights.

Grace Horler, Kayla Tarantolo and Jamiel Laurence in Scottish Ballet's <i>Cinderella</i> © Andy Ross
Grace Horler, Kayla Tarantolo and Jamiel Laurence in Scottish Ballet's Cinderella
© Andy Ross

If there were ever to be a revisionist interpretation of Cinderella where a different foot fits that sequined slipper then it should belong to the so-called “short” step-sister in Hampson’s reworking of this perennial fairy tale. Far from being “wicked”, she is merely insecure and uncoordinated, naïvely following the lead of her cruel mother and bullying, taller (and, one assumes, elder) sister. Innocently, she doesn’t recognise the vindictive cruelty of her mother and sibling but sees their antics as a game (as when the three of them try to dispossess Cinderella of her mother’s portrait): if it were not for Cinderella’s presence in the house, one intuitively feels that this step-sister would have suffered her fate. Kayla-Maree Tarantolo’s performance is funny and endearing and this step-sister’s parallel romance with the Prince’s friend (Evan Loudon – surely a prince in-waiting) presents a charming sub-text. There is another, far less mutual or engaging, pairing between the taller sister (a masterclass in self-indulgent swagger by Grace Horler) and another friend (Thomas Edwards) but we can only but feel his pain! 

I first encountered Barnaby Rook Bishop at the National Ballet in Romania, back in 2015, for which – under the leadership of Johan Kobborg – he had left the Royal Ballet School early. He struck me as a dancer with huge potential and here, in the elegant, unhurried, nobility of his performance as the Prince, it is clear that his upwards trajectory is being well nurtured and further developed under Hampson’s stewardship. 

Bruno Micchiardi and Constant Vigier in Scottish Ballet's <i>Cinderella</i> © Andy Ross
Bruno Micchiardi and Constant Vigier in Scottish Ballet's Cinderella
© Andy Ross

At that European premiere, back in 2015, Sophie Martin was the cute step-sister and here she took the title role. Martin dances with refinement and subtlety, easily capturing the quintessential goodness of Cinderella and her transition from menial minion to beguiling beauty (in a stunning Swarovski-embellished white cape and matching tutu with floral detail) is such a contrast that we genuinely believe she elicits just a momentary flash of recall, when coming face to face – at the ball – with her downtrodden father (a similarly unrecognisable Christopher Harrison). Her performance will be the source of many enduring memories etched with pleasure.    

***11