Tag Archive: The Sisters

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.’

The 'ugly' sisters

Here you can see John Macfarlane’s designs for arguably two of the most pivotal roles in Cinderella: the heroine’s stepsisters.

David Bintley has already praised the images, called them ‘terrific’. ‘I said from the beginning that I wanted to make sure that these two were “real” characters,’ he said, ‘as opposed to caricatures – a couple of dancers acting “ugly”.

‘When John does a costume design it isn’t just a design; it’s a character sketch too. He’s told me that sometimes when he starts work on the costumes he gets hung up on the face, which is the one thing he doesn’t actually need to worry about! But of course he’s painting entire characters, as opposed to simply what a particular dancer will be wearing.’

David’s earlier work, Beauty and the Beast saw the choreographer creating sister roles, however this time around will be quite different.

‘With Beauty and the Beast, for the two girls, Vanity and Pride, I deliberately chose two very beautiful girls. I wanted them to retain that beauty, but in a very haughty way, as their names suggested. In that instance, the fun aspect for me was that they were actually very similar, and their motivations were identical; a desire for money and status. But the sisters in Cinderella are almost entirely different. I’m not even referring to them as the “ugly” sisters.’

As David has already said, he is keen to avoid creating Cinderella’s sisters as purely comedic roles, so as not to run the risk of trivialising the harsh realities of the young girl’s plight. That’s not to say that there will not be funny moments, nor that he is not having fun with the physical appearance of the terrible twosome.

‘In Prokofiev’s treatment one is called “Dumpy” and the other “Skinny”, and I wanted to stay with these original characters. And I’m taking their sizes to extremes. Obviously we have no problem finding taller, more slender ladies, but for the shorter, fatter role we’re having to do a bit of work.

‘We’ve got a prosthetic suit, for which we’ve had initial fittings. With new costumes you always have to look at the practicalities of movement; especially so when you’re using a lot of padding, obviously. But the materials that they use now are so advanced, and so light and non-restrictive. You can get the air circulating to the body in a way which you just couldn’t do 20 years ago.’

Back at the start of summer, David took time out to record his thoughts on various aspects of the Cinderella story.

Here you can hear him speak about the heroine’s stepsisters, characters which have hugely affected the tone of previous productions of the ballet, and with mixed results.

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