A trip to the theatre is more than the performance you see. The ornate grandeur of it can make you feel humongous and important, or it can have you feeling rather small. Theatre Royal in Newcastle is rather on the quaint side, but the hoards of well-to-do middle class families and elderly couples can make you feel, as a perhaps ruffian-looking millennial, rather tied to a certain etiquette, of absolute formality: clapping vehemently and unwavering after every solo performance and trying not to giggle to yourself as a young man dressed as a pumpkin prances onto stage. The Scottish Ballet Company, however, did something that relieved the etiquette of theatre-going spectacularly.
Its pantomimic, almost slapstick, portrayal of Cinderella’s two ‘ugly step-sisters’ introduced a live conflict between the traditional formality of ballet and the vulgarity of their comedic acting, one which had them dancing around stage pretending to be terrible dancers, as the clumsy and ungraceful characters they are, whilst still maintaining technically perfect balletic movement. This balance they managed to achieve, between acting and dancing, became not just silliness, but a method of connecting to the audience human-to-human: a relieving quirkiness among the meticulousness and poise of traditional ballet dancing, and even the formality of the theatre itself. It had people laughing uncontrollably, for that moment, oblivious to any notion of the etiquette required of them.
The Scottish Ballet Company returned the magic to a classic children’s story in this production of Cinderella, so much so, that all in the audience were children again. ‘Yes!’, a young girl whispered excitedly as Cinderella floated down the stairs in her long white gown, ready for the ball. And that is exactly how it felt. The ball scene, where Cinderella and the Prince dance gracefully together, soothed the audience into a state of wonder.
The production’s story broke no cliché nor subverted any of the classic story, rather, in its embrace of tradition, it was beautiful. But by exploring the famous story through dance, it offered a new perspective. Delicate, subtle and at times ambiguous, ballet visualised the power balances between characters, as the ball goers looked in awe of Cinderella and her prince, so did we, and as they looked away with embarrassment at her ‘ugly step-sisters’, we watched with amusement. With ballet as the method of story-telling, the traditional and classical nature of the story could no longer be tiresome, but somehow, new and unexplored. The unspoken subtlety of ballet was mesmerising, and with every clichéd moment, one could watch with simultaneous wonder and knowing. Truly bewitching the audience, it was a magical method of storytelling.
This performance runs at Theatre Royal until February 2nd 2019.