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Director’s commentary – the Stars

While choreographing Cinderella throughout 2010, David Bintley recorded a number of studio sequences on his smartphone. These allowed him to review progress each evening, as well as during the summer break.

Here you can see some of this material for the very first time, along with footage shot by the Company Choreologist for archive purposes, and material from one of the very first full stage rehearsals, shot just days before the premiere.

David has also recorded an exclusive commentary for the sequence, which shows the Stars who appear to escort Cinderella to the Prince’s ball:

Birmingham Royal Ballet dances Cinderella at Birmingham Hippodrome, until 9 December 2012. Click here to book your seats now.

Video highlights from the creation of Cinderella

During the creation of Cinderella in 2010, we posted a selection of videos showing the work that goes into bringing such a major new production to the stage, as well as sneak previews of the ballet.

With the show back on stage at Birmingham Hippodrome next week, we’ve looked back at some of our favourite individual moments from these videos, some of which you may have missed the first time around!

1. Tiny cardboard dancers

One of David’s first Cinderella video diaries provided an insight not just into the forthcoming production, but into the process of creating all full-length ballets.

Featuring Designer John Macfarlane’s exquisite 1/25 scale model of the set, the video allowed us to see what Cinderella’s kitchen looked like in Act I. However a cutaway shot revealed a fantastic cluster of additional figures, cut from cardboard, hinting at more heavily-populated scenes at the Prince’s ball. At this early stage, they were an exciting extra glimpse of things to come, even if the characters were dwarfed by a mug of tea…

Skip to 00:37 to see the figures.

2. We accidentally film David accidentally filming us

Some moments of footage we planned, and some we captured by accident.

Back in the summer of 2010, we accompanied David to one of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s warehouses, to see parts of Cinderella’s kitchen for the first time. David would later be recording a video diary explaining the intricacies of the set, so we wanted to capture some appropriate footage of it. With David also recording his own reference materials on his smartphone, we were keen to remain in the background.

Skip to 01:17, however, when we pan around the set only to find ourselves standing face-to-face with David, doing exactly the same thing…

3. John Macfarlane’s shoes

John Macfarlane proved a fantastic host when we joined him at the Royal Opera House workshops to see him working on the full-sized cloths for Cinderella. Covered in paint, he explained how they were used in layers to filter different levels of light to give the impression of a night sky.

The scale of the work that John was undertaking to paint those cloths by hand was remarkable, and over the morning he had become speckled in thousands of drops of blue and purple paint. While his hands were the most heavily covered, we loved his flecked footwear!

Skip to 01:00 to see John’s shoes:


This video diary was recorded just a few days before the premiere. David reports on a weekend of rehearsals that had gone from bad (“catastrophic is a good word”) to good (“I wrote a list out this morning of things that were worrying me and it was… not too long!”).

But the highlight for us is near the end, after he explains that he’s now off to try on animal heads. Reports have reached him that those playing the frogs and mice and lizards, that are transformed into Cinderella’s entourage for the ball, are having trouble seeing through their masks.

Skip to 01:41 to see for yourself, when the camera shoots from inside a Mouse’s head:

5. A montage of unseen material

We wondered if David would have the energy to record his thoughts the morning after the premiere, or if the workload that led up to that point would leave him in need of a lie-in. But the following day he was back, with camera in hand, and the relief that it had all come together was visible on his face.

Another highlight, however, was the selection of bonus shots of the production process that crept up throughout the video. Included in a montage of clips shown halfway through were the stunning modelbox of the Prince’s ballroom, sun-drenched studios full of waltzing dancers and footage of Marion Tait in rehearsals that David himself had shot on his iphone.

Skip to 01:01 to see for yourself:

Cinderella returns to Birmingham Hippodrome, 21 November-9 December 2012. Click here to book your seats now.

Seven Cinderellas

This year Birmingham Royal Ballet will perform Cinderella 23 times at Birmingham Hippodrome. A total of seven dancers are currently preparing to dance the lead role, to spread the demanding workload evenly throughout the Company.

Here’s an introduction to our seven Cinderellas, along with notes on where you may have seen them before…

Elisha Willis

Elisha originally worked with David Bintley to create the role of Cinderella back in 2010, and was featured in the BBC broadcast of the ballet. She has danced the lead female role in a number of David’s pieces, including Edward II, The Orpheus Suite, Cyrano and Hobson’s Choice. David describes Elisha as having ‘a fearless technique’. Here you can see a video diary recorded by the Director during the creation of Cinderella, including footage of Elisha in the title role at approximately the 1 minute mark.

Nao Sakuma

Another Principal dancer with Birmingham Royal Ballet, Japan-born Nao is a virtuoso calssical performer. She has danced every major ballet in the Company’s repertory, and appeared as Cinderella during the production’s first season. She is a regular performer at the annual ArtsFest in Birmingham’s Centenary Square, and well as Gala events world-wide. Here you can see her in studio rehearsals for Le Corsaire, with Chi Cao:

Natasha Oughtred

A wonderful classical dancer, Natasha has worked with David in both narrative ballets (Far From the Madding Crowd, Sylvia) and abstract work (The Dance House, Galanteries). She returns to the role of Cinderella, which she danced throughout the premiere season, including Birmingham Royal Ballet’s last performance of the show in April 2011 in London. David has praised Natasha’s affinity for the ‘English’ school of ballet, as well as her versatility as a dancer.

Jenna Roberts

This marks Jenna’s first year as Principal, having been promoted at the end of last season. She may well be recognisable even to non-theatre going audiences, having appeared in the Channel 4 documentary Ballet Hoo! In the programme, she was one of only a handful of professional dancers who joined a group of young people to perform Kenneth MacMillan’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Jenna’s sister, Callie, is also a dancer with the Company, and will coincidentally be taking on the role of one of Cinderella’s cruel siblings for some performances!

Momoko Hirata

For the 2010 premiere, Momoko created the role of Spring, one of four nymph-like characters conjured up by Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother. Having left the Company to dance in Europe in early 2011, we’re delighted that she has rejoined us in time for Cinderella’s return. While she will be reprising the role of Spring, in other performances she will be dancing the role of Cinderella. Having just made an acclaimed debut as Odette/Odile in this autumn’s performance of Swan Lake, Momoko has proven herself a strong leading actress. In the clip below you can see her dancing the role of the Princess in David Bintley’s Aladdin, which received its UK premiere in 2013.

Maureya Lebowitz

Maureya only joined Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2011, but has already appeared in a number of high-profile roles, including the doomed Fanny in David Bintley’s Far From the Madding Crowd. During this year’s International Dance Festival Birmingham, she was part of a group of dancers who worked with US-based Choreographer Jessica Lang on a new ballet, Lyric Pieces. The Company subsequently toured the piece to London, where Maureya was praised by the national press. This video, shot during the first week of Cinderella rehearsals, shows Maureya and fellow lead Delia Mathews (see below) sharing a studio to run through a solo from Act I of the production. In the scene, Cinderella dances barefoot in the kitchen she calls home.

Delia Mathews

Another of the original cast for Cinderella, Delia worked with David Bintley to create the Character of Winter, summoned by the Fairy Godmother to usher the heroine to the ball. While Delia will be returning to the role, she will also be dancing the role of Cinderella. As if that were not enough, some audiences will also see her playing a guest at the Prince’s Ball, a waltzing Star AND the Fairy Godmother. Having also just made her debut as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, we’re not envying Delia her rehearsal schedule at the moment! Here you can see Delia in studio rehearsals for last summer’s performances of Elite Syncopations.

Cinderella returns to Birmingham Hippodrome, 21 November-9 December 2012. Click here to book your seats now.

Casting changes

A thankfully minor injury has meant that Chi Cao will sadly no longer be dancing the role of the Prince in Cinderella, with casting for other performances being amended to allow other dancers to fill his place.

[Edit] It was initially decided that Joseph Caley would simply step in to fill Chi’s place, however the recasting will now be more complex. Click here for the most recent updates.

As a result, casting for most performances after 27 November have been shuffled to ensure that that those taking his place are not performing two shows back-to-back.

Chi himself is expected to return for Aladdin in the new year.

Speaking of the casting shuffle, Assistant Director Marion Tait, explained:

‘Thankfully we’re prepared for occasions like this, with a number of dancers rehearsing each role. But we’ll have to be careful how we now reschedule the casts. The Prince has some gruelling choreography, so those dancing the part need adequate rest-time between performances.

‘We’ve also got to be careful as some of the girls dancing Cinderella are appearing in other roles too, so there are knock-on effects throughout the production. We can’t just swap the partnerships around, otherwise Cinderella could end up playing her own Fairy Godmother! It’ll need to be done very carefully to avoid clashes.’

Click here to view the amended casting for all Birmingham 2012 shows.

The first week of rehearsals for Cinderella 2012

Rehearsals for Cinderella began fully last week, with preparation taking place in all four of our Birmingham studios. As discussed by Delia Mathews here last week, Monday saw five principal couples share a studio to go through a duet between Cinderella and the Prince. Company Notator Denis Bonner was also present, armed with a copy of the score and an archive recording of the ballet for referral purposes (as shown above).

For those who had danced the roles in 2010/11, it was a return for familiar territory, while others were learning the choreography for the first time. In some cases, couples had simply not danced with one another before, and so it was a chance to establish a working partnership.

As shown in these photos, the atmosphere was one of support, as the intensive preparations began.

Click each thumbnail to expand the image:

Cinderella returns to Birmingham Hippodrome, 21 November-9 December 2012. Click here to book your seats now.

The painted costumes of Cinderella

For the costumes worn throughout Cinderella, John Macfarlane created a suite of hand-painted designs. The challenge was then to create physical items of clothing as richly detailed as his illustrations.

These never-before-published photos, from the Wardrobe department’s own reference folder, reveal some of the ways in which this was done.

In many cases, John broke down the surface of the costumes into smaller pieces, drawn with feathered edges to mimic the brush strokes of his designs. In the photos above you can see a top worn by one of the men in the ballroom scene in Act II broken down in this way.

The outline of each of these shapes was copied onto a master sheet, which John then hand-painted in rich inks that matched his designs. You can see an example of this below. Once complete, the sheets were photographed, and printed onto fabric.

Each individual piece was then cut out by hand, resulting in a jigsaw puzzle of brushstrokes. These pieces were hemmed, and stitched into place on the costumes. The Wardrobe department’s own reference folder contains additional examples of these pieces, one of which you can see here, along with a finished example:

You can also see close-ups of the outfit in this costumes gallery.

As well as allowing us to physically realise the depth of John’s designs, it also saves time when producing replica costumes for the difference dancers who will dance each role over the three-week season. The technique also proved invaluable when creating the costume for the Autumn fairy – a tutu made from dozens of leaves in deep autumnal colours!

Here you can see an example of one of the individual sections produced for another tutu worn in Act II, as well as the final costume:

Cinderella returns to Birmingham Hippodrome, 21 November-9 December 2012. Click here to book your seats now.

Delia Mathews interview

Having finished the 2012 autumn tour, Birmingham Royal Ballet returned to our Midlands HQ on Monday, for a full week of Cinderella rehearsals.

Over the course of the winter season, seven different ballerinas will take to the stage as Cinderella, each with a different male dancer partnering them as the handsome prince.

One of them is First Artist Delia Mathews, who has already made her debut this autumn as the lead in Swan Lake (‘I really enjoyed it!’) and was among five Principal couples who on Monday shared a studio rehearsal.

‘We had a few rehearsals during the recent tour’, says Delia. ‘We had one in Cardiff last week, between the triple bill and Swan Lake. To be honest my mind was fairly full of Swan Lake, so it didn’t really go in, but at least it was a chance to try things out. We can focus properly now.’

The dancers are been a great support to each other at this early stage, with the shared rehearsal providing a chance to learn from one another.

‘That’s been great, because there’s a lot to learn’, confirms Delia. ‘It’s been especially good having the chance to work with Elisha and Iain, because they created those roles, so they know them inside out. They know exactly what David’s thought processes were when the characters were first made, so it’s been great having their support.’

In these photos, taken during Monday’s rehearsal, you can see Iain and Elisha helping Delia and partner Tyrone Singleton with one of the lifts. Also featured is Ballet Master Wolfgang Stollwitzer.

‘A lot of it is about co-ordination between partners,’ Delia explains, ‘as well as balance. If you don’t end up right above his head, it’s much harder for your partner to support you.’

‘The guys usually tell you not to try to help too much, and to just let them lift you. If you jump even a second earlier than they’re expecting, then they can end up having to catch you on your way down and lift you back up, rather than just push you into the air in one movement.’

This is the first time that Delia has danced with Tyrone Singleton. ‘I’ve heard he’s a great partner,’ she says, ‘so I’m really looking forward to working with him this season.’

But her work on Cinderella does not end with the title role. Across the three-week run in Birmingham, Delia will be playing a total of five characters. ‘I’m dancing Cinderella, Winter, one of the Stars, one of the Eight Ladies (the guests at the Prince’s Ball) and the Fairy Godmother! It’s a lot to learn, and in not much time, but I’m excited.’

In the story, Winter is one of four fairies, each representing a different season, who help the Fairy Godmother to transform Cinderella for the ball. It will be a particularly special role for Delia, having created the character for the original 2010 production.

It will also give her a chance to help those new to the role, in the same way that Elisha has supported Delia herself. And of course it also means that she is already familiar with the choreography.

‘It’s really nice to go back to something that’s already in your muscle memory, so you can work on it further’, she says. ‘It’s amazing how quickly it comes flooding back. When you put the music on, your body just does it!’

Click here to book for Cinderella now.

The Four Seasons – from paper to people

In Cinderella, The Four Seasons are fairy-like characters who are conjured up by the Fairy Godmother as she transforms the sooty young girl into her ballgown.

Back in 2010 when Cinderella was first created, David explained that they were four of the final costumes to be designed. When we spoke to him about the characters in August, he’d not yet seen two of them at all. Such was his confidence in Designer John Macfarlane, however, that he was not concerned.

Now that the ballet has been performed in full, we can to compare John’s original designs with photography of the finished costumes. Here are the sketches and paintings for each, alongside images from the final show:

Cinderella returns to Birmingham Hippodrome, 21 November-9 December 2012. Click here to book your seats now.

Dancing with the Stars

One of the visual inspirations for Cinderella was the night sky. The Guests at the Prince’s ball dress in rich costumes the colour of twilight, and the ceiling of the ballroom itself fades into twinkling stars.

The Stars also feature at the end of Act I, played by a stagefull of ballerinas in glittering tutus who accompany the Fairy Godmother’s transformation of Cinderella into her ballgown.

The costumes were designed by John Macfarlane, who also designed Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker.

Here you can see some of John’s original designs for the tutus (Click each photo to enlarge)

From John’s designs, the tutus were made by hand, including all of the decoration. Here you can see photographs of the Stars’ costumes being created ahead of the 2010 premiere, as well as a shot of them being worn in the wings during a performance.

When not in use, the tutus are hung upside-down in order to preserve the bounce(!) For example, the tutus in the picture below are worn by Cinderella in the ballroom scene, and at first glance look relatively plain, as the silver patterning seen on stage is hidden underneath.

While Birmingham Royal Ballet are away on tour this week, a skeleton wardrobe staff have remained back at our Thorp Street HQ. They are currently checking over the star tutus and all of the rest of the costumes to ensure that no repairs need to be made ahead of the new performances of Cinderella this winter.

Click here to book for Cinderella now.

New Cinderella trailer!

Birmingham Royal Ballet performs Cinderella at Birmingham Hippodrome, 21 November – 9 December. You can see the gorgeous new trailer for the show below, and Click here to book your tickets now!

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