Some stories and some ballet scores are so familiar, our attention can slip into "automatic pilot" mode as what we expect does, indeed, come to pass.
There's no possibility of that happening with David Nixon's new Cinderella for Northern Ballet. The usual Prokofiev has given way to a new score by Philip Feeney that offers lyric wistfulness, dramatic percussion and shimmers of magic with a Russian feel. Dark, chilly edges too - reflecting not just the wintry back-drop to the narrative, but the coldness of characters whose rejection of Cinderella is no fairy-tale cliche. The Prince is quite shockingly one of them. He was smitten by a gorgeous princess, who danced like a dream in a frock made of silvery moonbeams - he has the shoe to prove it - and she must be his, like an ornamental possession. The real Cinderella barely merits a look. He's already overlooked her at the colourful winter fair, and the outdoor skating rink, because servant girls are just ...invisible.
There is a tremendous depth to what Nixon suggests here, in terms of what love is, and how it drives human behaviour for good or ill. At the same time, however, the production isn't short of fun, spectacle or swooshy illusions with an oriental Magician (intriguingly the same dancer as Cinders' late father) whose conjuring tricks include a bold on-stage transformation of kitchen range to sleigh complete with rollicking dog team. As ever, Nixon's choreography carries the emotional subtext, with Pippa Moore's stabbing little feet conveying the Stepmother's internal furies and the duets between Cinders (Martha Leebolt) and her destined Prince (Tobias Batley) revealing how the glamour of a ballroom dance is ultimately eclipsed by the tenderness and joy in their future togetherness at the end - which leaves us all happy!
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