Diane Parkes peeks behind the scenes at BRB’s epic new production of Cinderella.
I t has been more than two years in the making but next week the curtain rises on the world premiere of the new Birmingham Royal Ballet Cinderella.
With designs beginning in 2008, the first costumes being created eight months ago, rehearsals starting in the summer – the clock has been well and truly ticking. And with days to go, the work behind the scenes is now in overdrive.
Created by BRB director David Bintley together with designer John Macfarlane and set to Prokofiev’s score, Cinderella is an epic in many ways.
“This is a landmark production for us,” says David. “Just as Sir Peter Wright created The Nutcracker as a gift to the city when the company moved to Birmingham in 1990, this is our gift to the city to mark 20 years. This is our 20th anniversary year and this production is an ideal bookend to it.”
He is also hoping the show will compete with The Nutcracker, which remains one of BRB’s most popular works despite being 20 years old.
“We hope that Cinderella will be as successful as The Nutcracker and that it is enjoyed by as many families,” says David. “This company is about bringing new people into the theatre and to dance and one of the best ways to do that is to be continually producing new work.
“This piece is important for the company. It has been expensive and we hope it will become central to the company. It has been designed to take on tour as I am sure audiences in London and Salford will also want to see it.
“The commercial success matters to the company but the designer John Macfarlane and I wanted to create something beautiful, magical and spectacular and I feel we have done that.”
It may be Cinderella at Christmas time but this is no pantomime.
“Fairy stories are based in real experience and they do have a dark side,” says David. “That is what has always fascinated me about them.
“With Cinderella we have to remember that the story is about a girl whose mother died when she was very young and has been farmed out to her step mother. She is an orphan who is looking for love in her life.
“So it does need a lot of realism in the story. Certainly at the beginning this is very realistic although it does become fantastical later on.”
And he steers well clear of the usual sources of humour.
“My Ugly Sisters are not danced by men as that can give the story a level of grotesquerie,” he says. “They are still funny but they are not just a collection of gags. This isn’t pantomime.”
The wicked stepmother, played by ballet mistress Marion Tait, is also no cardboard cut out of evil.
“She is not an obvious villain,” says Marion. “She is very quiet. But she is also very determined. She wants the very best for her daughters.
“In that she is very realistic but she does also have some comedic scenes. David was insistent he wanted her to be tall so I have these huge platform shoes and an amazing costume. I am wearing black at the beginning and then it is puce pink for the second act. My role is not a dancing role, it is all about body language. It is a presence.”
With the opening of the ballet so close Marion says there is a real air of excitement in the company.
“Rehearsals for some of the pas de deux started before the summer but we are still working right up to the last point. But then that is always the same,” she says.
“There is always that panic that you won’t get everything done in time but you do, you have to.
“But then David will come back to something again and again, changing it a bit again and again until he is sure it is absolutely right. You can see the results of that in his work.
“David always demonstrates his choreography to the dancers. I remember very well when he created Hobson’s Choice he did every role. He could do it as a one person ballet if he needed to.
“But he is a master at work and he will catch every little subtlety. And these things do matter.”
Marion, who has danced countless classics with the Royal Ballet and BRB, admits she will still have first night nerves for Cinderella.
“I am as nervous as now as I was years ago when it comes to a first night,” she says.
And the technical teams who labour behind the scenes are also working flat out.
Headed by Lili Sobieralska, the wardrobe team are busy maintaining 170 new costumes. Her team of more than ten people will be cleaning, mending and altering the costumes during the run.
“Work on the costumes began in around March,” says Lili.
“It is a very long drawn out process. John Macfarlane creates the designs and then Mary Terrey, his production supervisor, has a whole battalion of makers who go away with those designs and come back with suitcases – and open them to a world of treasures.
“John has been doing the fittings with the individual dancers and even in the last weeks he is making small changes to things like cuffs and head dresses.
“It is all highly concentrated towards the end but the results are wonderful. A new production can have its hiccups and especially when there are a lot of ballroom scenes or walking scenes where people can stand on the costumes. But though they are delicate, a lot of the costumes are sturdy.”
And they need to be as they could be used for decades to come.
“The principals need their own costumes but with the second cast we do every permutation of small medium and large. And this tends to continue with the rest of the cast,” explains Lili.
“They need to have longevity and they need to be able to travel safely. It is such a big operation. And these costumes are fabulous. They are a fantastic feast for your eyes. I think this will be a wonderful ballet.”
* BRB Cinderella, Birmingham Hippodrome, Nov 24-Dec 12, tickets: 0844 338 5000, www.birminghamhippodrome.com