Sadler’s Wells Cinderella

Sunday I had the chance to watch a wonderful ballet from 1957 – the Sadler’s Wells Ballet production of Cinderella.

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This made-for-television production was made back in the days when television broadcasts were not considered any more permanent than anything done on stage. A copy was made of the broadcast, but it wasn’t a very good copy and it wasn’t treated with the sort of archival care that we all wish it had received. Almost 50 years later, the print is hard to look at, and if it weren’t for the wonderful performances of Dame Margot Fonteyn and the Royal Ballet, the flickering, washed-out images would have been too annoying to sit through. After awhile, you can force yourself to ignore the print and watch the ballet, as if watching it through the frame of an impressionist painting. But I wouldn’t recommend watching it on a widescreen tv. A small laptop would be a better choice.

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Margot Fonteyn was 38 when this broadcast aired, but she still conveys the childlike grace, energy and wonder of a young girl. There is no evil stepmother in this production, making the story less sinister and more comic. The stepsisters are vain and mean to each other, but they’re so hilariously clumsy you can’t imagine them being too much of a threat to Cinderella.
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The creator of the Cinderella ballet, Sir Frederick Ashton, plays one of the stepsisters. What some men are willing to suffer for their art! (rolls eyes)

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That’s Sir Frederick with the bride of Frankstein hair. The sister with the Princess Leia hair is Kenneth MacMillan.

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The stepsisters prepare for the ball.

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Cinderella has fun trying on her big sister’s wrap, and one of their wigs.

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Cinderella’s fairy godmother first appears as a lame beggar, but soon reveals her true form. This fairy godmother has four helpers, named Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.

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Dame Merle Park’s dance is one of the hardest parts of the ballet to see. ChromaKey was really primitive in those days. Spring’s gift to Cinderella is a beautiful tiara.

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Summer’s gift to Cinderella is a robe to wear over her dress.

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I couldn’t get a good screenshot of Autumn, but she does a memorable dance where she leaps out of a pile of fallen leaves and gives Cinderella a pair of glass slippers.

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Fairy Godmother summons Winter.

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I love the icicles on Winter’s costume. Winter gives Cinderella a beautiful diamond necklace.

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This coach was originally a pumpkin. Now that’s magic!

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The “theatrical” special effects like this hanging clockpiece, tend to work so much better than the “video” special effects like ChromaKey. Maybe because this particular effect is so integral to the storyline – the ominous warning of the limitations of magic.

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The ballroom scene is so delightfully different from any ballroom scene I can remember. The stepsisters and their screwball slapstick are front and center.

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The prince is usually upstaged by other characters in the story, but since when was the prince upstaged by a court jester?

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Cinderella arrives with a full entourage.

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In the most magical part of the ballet, Cinderella enters the ballroom and glides en pointe to center stage.

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The four seasons seem to have received invitations as well.

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What makes this ballet fun is when the romantic and the comic elements juxtapose, like this wonderful moment of raw jealousy.

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Fonteyn is more than a remarkable dancer. She also has a beautifully expressive face.

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Cinderella gives one of her sisters an enormous apple, which her other sister quickly snatches away.

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What’s that sound? Is it Y2K already?

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Worse! It’s midnight!

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The prince is not too good with faces, but he’d remember her feet anywhere …65swc.jpg

Act Three opens with some lighthearted play between the sisters.

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It’s interesting to notice how many admiring glances the “ugly” sisters receive from the ladies in the company.

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After the usual slapstick with the slipper, the prince discovers his princess, to the stepsisters’ dismay.

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The fairy godmother serves as minister for the wedding.

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And they lived happily every after.

To my amazement, the “DVD extras” have nothing to do with Sadler’s Wells or Sir Ashton’s choreography or Fonteyn’s career, but the commercials that originally aired with the broadcast.

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I’m hesitant to tell you to run out and buy this DVD. Prolonged watching could be bad for your eyesight. But definitely rent it if you can, if you want to see Margot Fonteyn’s astonishing grace and Frederick Ashton’s comical take of this classic fairy tale.

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