I may hold a minority position here, but for me David Nixon’s Cinderella was the most entertaining and enjoyable interpretation of the much-loved fairytale I have ever seen. More beautiful and graceful than any pantomime and more fast-paced than Prokofiev, Northern Ballet’s dazzling production was a real treat at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh last Saturday.

Cinderella and her Prince © Emma Kauldhar
Cinderella and her Prince
© Emma Kauldhar

Set in imperial Russia, the ballet incorporated many of the aspects associated with the traditional story while including additional perks allowed by the setting, such as gorgeous Russian-style costumes – ushankas, kokoshniks and sarafans – and delightful smatterings of Russian percussion in Philip Feeney’s score. The choreography was decidedly balletic, but elements of traditional Russian styles always managed to work their way in while never seeming gratuitous.

Opening with the death of Cinderella’s father during a family picnic, we see for ourselves the devastating effect this has on the Stepmother (brilliantly portrayed by Jessica Morgan). Her poignant transformation into a cold, strict, grieving widow within a couple of convulsions would attract sympathy were it not for her subsequent cruelty towards Cinderella (Lucia Solari), who she blames for her husband’s death. Her haughty manner throughout the ballet was perfect for the character as she stepped primly around en pointe, and the scene where she tore up Cinderella’s invitation was fittingly chilling.

Cinderella's carriage © Emma Kauldhar
Cinderella's carriage
© Emma Kauldhar

The other standout performance was that of the Magician (Hironao Takahashi), who took the role traditionally filled by a fairy godmother. We first meet him amongst the jugglers, stilt walkers, tumbling acrobats and very endearing dancing bear of the Winter Market Circus, then later skating (very shakily) on the frozen crystal lake. His splendid showmanship with sleight of hand and magic tricks entertained both the crowds onstage and the audience in the theatre.

Then, of course, he is present for the most iconic scene of the fairytale – and most challenging to stage: Cinderella’s transformation from serving girl to beautiful princess. Many productions opt to have Cinderella exit the stage for several minutes to quickly change into her ballgown, others leave the dress reveal for after the interval. David Nixon’s Cinderella has the transformation take place onstage in a few seconds – Cinders spins, the dress changes. I have no idea how they did it. The entire scene, in fact, is filled with magic and wonder. Mountains of dirty dishes were gleaming within a three-second flash of yellow light and the kitchen stove was transformed into a sleigh pulled by three huskies before the audience’s eyes. It was fantastic.

Looking around me at the interval, there was not one face without a smile, and the only question anyone was asking was ‘how can Act II possibly top that?’ Admittedly, the second act was less spectacular than the first, but the vivaciousness of the guests, beauty of the soloists and technical skill of all of the dancers maintained the excitement level throughout the long ballroom scene. I was impressed by the elevation of all of the male dancers, but the Prince’s (Javier Torres) jetés and straddle jumps were particularly breathtaking. The comic antics of the decidedly-not-ugly Stepsisters as they vie for the Prince’s attentions and the Stepmother’s unimpressed expressions when Cinderella enters, also serve to sustain the pace.

Hironao Takahashi as the Magician © Emma Kauldhar
Hironao Takahashi as the Magician
© Emma Kauldhar

A pleasing divergence from the original tale came when Cinderella’s true identity was revealed to the Prince. Instead of being overjoyed, the Prince is furious with the girl he believes tricked him into looking like an idiot, and he humiliates her before fleeing the room. Later he must win his happy ending by apologising for his behaviour. It was refreshing how genuinely happy the couple were at the Happy Ever After, and, as our heroes dance their true love, the Magician performs one last trick using a fan and white confetti to create snow.

The ballet was stuffed with novelties, tricks, thrills and, of course, brilliant dancing. The imperial Russian setting inspired a new take on a beloved classic and I left the theatre grinning and excited.