The ticking clock at the heart of CINDERELLA provided Matthew Bourne with an expedient opportunity to play with circular time when creating his 1997 theater/dance work, which is—along with Play without Words—his closest flirtation with existentialism.
The ghost of Noël Coward haunts the piece, now in revival at the Ahmanson Theatre—specifically the 1940s David Lean-directed classics of bourgeois rectitude In Which We Serve and Brief Encounter. And if—twenty years on from his Los Angeles premiere with Swan Lake—Bourne’s mockery of middle-class British values now feels like a reflexive embrace, there are scenes in CINDERELLA where his embroidered patterns transcend their frankly ornamental thrust and affect a lurch (a signature Bourne move) toward magic.
CINDERELLA—which takes place during the London Blitz of 1940—comes alive in its middle section, with the ascent to the ceiling of a large mirrored ball. This forty-minute act—a flashback and its aftermath—is set inside the Café de Paris, the West End club where Coward introduced many of his cabaret performances. Cinderella’s liberation on the dance floor releases all the principals from the drab, monochrome set of Act One, and the even darker milieu of spivs and streetwalkers in the Underground scene of Act Three. The capital endured over fifty consecutive days of Luftwaffe bombing, and a sense of fatalism walked among the ruins, on stage as in life. An ingenious five-soldiers-and-a-girl ballroom dance represents a beautiful escape from the horrors of war and a summation of its creator’s formula: defiance through energy and joy.
Our guide and guardian throughout the proceedings is The Angel, a conscience figure danced by Liam Mower on opening night. Harry the Pilot, a stand-in for the Prince, was performed by Andrew Monaghan, and Ashley Shaw—the star of Bourne’s The Red Shoes—is a radiant Cinderella.
Through March 10.
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From top: Ashley Shaw in the title role and Andrew Monaghan as Harry the Pilot in Cinderella, directed and choreographed by Matthew Bourne; Liam Mower as The Angel; Shaw and Monaghan (2); the company in Cinderella; Monaghan and Shaw. All photographs by Johan Persson.