Category: News


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.

Cinderella on DVD!

The recording that was broadcast on the BBC over Christmas 2010 has been released on a DVD, and we received our first copies in the office a few weeks ago.

If you’d like to buy the DVD, you can do so (region 1) either through the Company shop by clicking here, or via Amazon by clicking here.

You can also buy Cinderella on Blu-ray through the Company shop by clicking here.

Interactive timeline

You can now get an idea of the length of time that Cinderella took to put together with our interactive timeline!

Click on the image below to open up the timeline, which is divided into seasons, each showing our Birmingham headquarters at a different time of year. It works using the Google Maps interface, so you’ll be able to zoom in and out and scroll left and right as you would do with an online map.

Select each of the red teardrop markers to open balloons containing images, videos and diary entries showing what was happening in the building during each of the seasons leading up to the premiere. We’ve also included Spring 2011, so we can post updates relating to this year’s final touring performances of Cinderella at the London Coliseum, 29 March-2 April (NEXT WEEK!)

Click on the image below to get started:

Cinderella was brought to the homes of millions this festive season, with a broadcast of the ballet on BBC2 on Christmas day. Scores of you used twitter and Facebook to send us your feedback, and your warmth was greatly appreciated!

We put all your comments through wordle.net, which created infographics showing the language used. The larger the individual word, the more often it was used (we’ve removed all the conjunctions). Click each image to open a larger version in your browser:

Feedback from Facebook:
Feedback from twitter:

Seasons Greetings!

Click here to view a video of Christmas messages from various members of Birmingham Royal Ballet, filmed during our performances of Cinderella at Birmingham Hippodrome!

Don’t forget, the production itself will be screened on BBC2 and BBC HD this afternoon at 3pm. You can find out more by clicking here!

There’ll also be another chance to catch the broadcast on Boxing Day, 7pm on BBC4. Click here for details.

Approaching midnight

For a typical season at Birmingham Hippodrome, we would begin setting up the production on Sunday morning, before we opened the show on Wednesday night. As Cinderella is a new production, however, we have scheduled access to the theatre a whole extra week in advance. As well as allowing the dancers more time for stage rehearsals, this also affords the technical team a longer period to rehearse scene transformations and work on the sets and lighting.

Here’s an overview of the technical schedule for the fortnight:

Sunday 14 November
Sets and cloths arrive at Birmingham Hippodrome, and a sprung floor is laid on the main stage.

Monday 15 November
The Lighting rig is built, and sets and stage cloths continue to be set.

Tuesday 16 November
The grand piano is transported to the orchestra pit and tuned. Every one of the countless lights used in the show has to be set and focused.

Wednesday 17 November
Lighting Designer David A. Finn works on designs for Act I, aided by the Company’s lighting team. The technical team run through all of the scene changes and transitions in Act I, to live piano accompaniment. In the evening, work commences on lighting designs for Act III.

Thursday 18 November
In the morning work continues on the lighting designs for Act III. In the afternoon there is a full technical rehearsal of all of the scene changes in Act III, again to live piano. In the evening there is a full run through of Act I. This is the first with the dancers, and the student participants from Elmhurst School for Dance, and involves props and costumes for the first time.

Friday 19 November
The grand piano is retuned. Work begins on lighting Act II before a run through of Act II and Act III, again with the cast, including the Elmhurst students. Full sets, props, lighting and costumes are used.

Saturday 20 November
The whole ballet is rehearsed to piano accompaniment during the afternoon, and then a second time with the orchestra in the evening.

Sunday 21 November
No work scheduled!

Monday 22 November
This day is kept free to catch up on any further technical or lighting work deemed necessary.

Tuesday 23 November
The grand piano is checked for tuning while time is set aside for further lighting and technical work as necessary. A full orchestral rehearsal is scheduled for the afternoon, with the principal characters now in full wigs and make-up. A general rehearsal is scheduled for the evening, when Cinderella will be performed in full, with every element in place.

Wednesday 24 November
A full piano rehearsal takes place in the afternoon, with sets, lights, props and costumes, and photographers take pictures for use in the media. Afterwards, everything is set for the evening, when Cinderella makes its debut in front of a packed Birmingham Hippodrome auditorium!

In addition to the scheduled work, the backstage team are constantly reviewing every aspect of the piece. Paul Grace, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Technical Director, said this afternoon:

‘Throughout the process there’s not a single moment when each aspect of the production is not being worked upon, with the whole team chipping away at it little by little until it’s perfect. That’s the difference between a good ballet and a brilliant ballet – never wasting an opportunity to revise and improve.’

Even the Sunday with no work currently scheduled will probably see activity of some sort take place. And don’t forget that while all this is going on, David Bintley is still leading rehearsals of the ballet up in the Company’s studios!

Sisters revealed

Birmingham Royal Ballet Principals Gaylene Cummerfield and Carol-Anne Millar are creating the roles of Cinderella’s sisters.

‘Both are great with comedy,’ said David of his choices. ‘I’ve worked with both before – both did E=mc² and Carol-Anne did The Shakespeare Suite – and they were very good to work with. They’ve also both danced in a lot of my other works, so I’m very comfortable working with them for this production. Importantly, I believe they’re also comfortable in demanding character roles like this.’

As David says, the roles of the sisters are demanding, with the Director citing them as ‘easily the biggest, apart from the title role.’ And the scenes that they share with Cinderella [Elisha Willis], and with the stepmother [Marion Tait] – are ones that David is enjoying working on.

‘With those four women together in the studio there’s a great atmosphere, and a professionalism. There’s a real sense that we can make something unique.

‘They’re very intense those scenes, just those four characters together. The stepmother isn’t a massive role in terms of her dancing, but she has an undeniable influence over the whole story. A lot of the story is just these four women together, and outside of the classical material their scenes really are the heart of the piece.’

Shoes

Practicalities have seen changes to one of Cinderella‘s most iconic elements. ‘We’re not having a glass slipper!’ says choreographer David Bintley. He smiles and shrugs. ‘It’s a ballet, you know? It’s got to be a glittery pointe shoe that someone can dance in, it’s as simple as that!’

While the materials have changed, however, the importance of footwear in the ballet has been expanded upon by David and designer John Macfarlane.

‘There’s a kind of language of shoes going on throughout the piece,’ nods David. ‘There are a lot of very different kinds of shoes that appear throughout the ballet. Initially Cinderella is kept barefoot in the kitchen by her stepmother. But she has some ballroom slippers, left to her by her real mother, which she has managed to keep hidden from the rest of the house. In an act of compassion she later gives these away to a beggar woman, and the fairy godmother subsequently gives her a pair of dancing shoes to go to the ball in.’

In addition, we see piles of shoes which the Prince has discarded while attempting to track down Cinderella in the wake of her sudden departure from the ball. As these are simply props, and are not designed to be worn, many are being cast in latex and polyurethane foam at the Royal Opera House workshops.

Here you can see an example, complete with moulds in the background. The shoes will later be painted and decorated to match John Macfarlane’s designs. However audiences will have to wait to see just how many of them are being created…

David A. Finn

Lighting Designer David A. Finn has joined the creative team working on Cinderella. He has worked with Designer John Macfarlane before, including on Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker.

‘He has strong ideas about how he wants to accomplish the necessary effects, and he’s designing the lighting rig, working closely with our own lighting team’, says Director David Bintley.

Some of the choreographer’s most recent works have incorporated light as a key feature of the production design, such as the dramatic backdrop of bulbs and laser-effect outlines in E=mc², or The Orpheus Suite‘s movable wall of LEDs.

‘We’re working in a different kind of way this time around’ he says. ‘This time the design and the light have been conceived as one thing. John uses a lot of these plastic backcloths that allow light to pass through, so they have already begun to dictate the lighting specifications. And very early in our own discussions, he came up with this ‘Close Encounters’ effect. There’s a moment when a light comes down the chimney, for example, so the set has been designed with these sort of lighting effects in mind.’

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