This was an encouraging night for professional ballet nights in Worthing with the town and surrounding area turning out in numbers to see the latest reduction by the most communicative and consistently entertaining of its visiting touring companies.
Little girls came in their best dancing and party costumes and when the principal dancers emerged into the auditorium from backstage after the final curtain to meet the audience, they were surrounded by enthusiastic and generous young and old.
If it’s not Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty or The Nutcracker – the three familiar Tchaikovsky ballets – or Coppelia, it’s absurd that so many people hesitate to come and potentially deny themselves the chance to be excited and charmed by something unfamiliar. Outside London, Cinderella falls into that category and here was an audience thus rewarded that repayed the courage Vienna Festival Ballet display in offering some of the other outstanding ballets in the repertoire, as well as bringing ballets unexpected, or creating their own – as last autumn with Snow White.
Their Cinderella uses music by Rossini instead of the usual Prokofiev. That choice by arranger Chris Nicolls meant music full of fun, lightness, joy and excitement, and choreographer Sheila Styles gave us almost non-stop movement and frolic. Ruth Prior, an ex-Scottish Ballet as well as VFB dancer now resident in Worthing, working in movement and physiotherapy, puffed her cheeks afterwards and declared: “Phew, so much energy – is there a step Sheila didn’t include?”
The VFB dancers, who on this spring tour are also doing the three-hour Swan Lake (Horsham Capital, 28th May) are having their physical endurance extra-extended and the process is self-generating. Principal Michaela Griffin (Cinderella) told me afterwards, with some relish: “I think I could run a marathon, now!”
There is lots of ensemble dancing, a suit with which VFB sees off most of its touring rivals
In this 2-hour Cinderella, the composite score comes from Rossini’s sunny, exhilarating overtures, operas and strings sonatas and dictate the mood of the production in which there is very little sadness. This Cinderella does not cower by the hearth and retreat into melancholy when her rotten elder siblings tell her the Prince’s Ball is for them and not her. In their relationship, little sister is not averse to giving them a biff back or a smack up the bottom with her broomstick.
Griffin is pert, expressive, fleet of foot, capable of conveying various moods, and with a smile to knock flat the Prince’s entire male kingdom. But her show is not stolen, but shared, by four others.
Jody McKnight (blonde) and newcomer Sandra Serey Sampredo (brunette) are the not-quite-ugly sisters, who in a nice twist actually win the hearts of the Prince’s two male friends (Vince William Smart and Filipe Manteigas), and Emily-Joy Smith, the Yorkshire farmer’s daughter, is sheer sweet delight as a Fairy Godmother who ensures that Cinderella will only be a winner.
McKnight and Sampredo increase VFB’s strength in character dancing with an evening-long cascade of tiffs, quarrels, scraps, and squabbles, coquetting and put-down antics competitions and confrontations that represent for young dancers a super achievement. They do not descend into pantomime because it’s pretent-real. Rather than having two males in the roles, as per Ashton and Helpmann, who blazed that trail in Britain with The Royal Ballet, with girls you get the real thing.
Talking feline, the fourth show sharer? That has to be Perdita-Jayne Lancaster’s Adelina the Cat. She actually kills one of the three mice naiive enough to dance with her in the opening kitchen scene. But after, that she’s all charm, and sneaks along to the ball with Cinders wearing a tutu to match her tail.
No other tutus until the final wedding scene, but this is a company still not afraid to costume them in these non-pretty modern times.
Another Yorkshire native, Joshua Barwick, carried off the Prince Ramiro role with control and composure, but if we have to pick from the only three boys on show – yes, it was a naff night at the Ball for all those hopeful girls (and on this head-count, Ramiro and his two pals face an exhausting task of keeping his kingdom going) – then Smart, as Dandini, clinched it. Despite Ramiro getting two bites at the variations cherry in his final pas de deux with Cinderella, Dandini gets the most rousing leaps and gestures in his.
There was more than just all this for the audience to talk about. The other girls are all stars in the tight Vienna Festival Ballet team. Watch out for the company in the autumn – or at Horsham next week.