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Cinderella (tour – Norwich)

It's one of the world's most popular stories, but this revival of David Nixon's dance drama keeps the audience guessing – as well as Northern Ballet's dancers on their toes!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In this country, we think of Cinderella in a pantomime context. Even Ashton's version paid homage to this. But Cinders is an accurate definition for the high-born girl forced to work among the kitchen ashes of her stepmother's house.

Martha Leebolt & Tobias Batley
© Bill Cooper

David Nixon sets the story in a pre-Revolutionary Russian context – think Turgenev or Chekhov. The merriment of Cinderella's birthday is cruelly interrupted by her father's accidental death, for which her stepmother immediately blames her.

Fast forward to several years later – the transformation of the child into the young woman is very well staged, as is her later revelation in her ball-gown. Her stepsisters in this version are mischievous and not really malicious; that's reserved for the stepmother. Jessica Morgan as the countess is a slither of cold steel menace as she stalks on pointe towards her victim.

Rachael Gillespie makes a charming young Cinderella, kitten-playful as she celebrates with her family and friends. Though Martha Leebolt is a dancer with an impressive technique, for me she failed to communicate any warmth in her characterisation, let alone vulnerability.

That was also true, at the performance I saw, of Tobias Batley's somewhat cold, not to say selfish, Prince Mikhail. Around them hover a galaxy of well-defined minor characters – the inept magician at the fair (Hironao Takahasi), the stepsisters (Hannah Bateman and Miki Akuta) and Mikhail's friends Katya and Nikolai (Dreda Blow and Giuliano Contadini).

Visually, the costumes (Julie Anderson) – including those for a dancing bear, three huskies and an assortment of fairground entertainers – look very well, and the succession of deceptively simple sets (Duncan Hayler) works seamlessly.

Philip Feeney's score, conducted by John Pryce-Jones, mingles a pleasant sort of atonality with exuberance and lyricism and Dixon's choreography matches it very well. It's particular effective in both the rumbustious fair and skating scenes and for the solos and pas de deux.

This is classical ballet with a human face, and all the better for it.

Cinderella tours nationally until 29 November.