Birmingham Royal Ballet
Sadlers Wells, 12th November 2009
Romantic story ballets are always an audience favourite and Cyrano is no exception, mixing comedy and musical theatre with classical ballet. The sets are wonderful, beautifully lit by Mark Jonathan, and used to great effect – Cyrano climbing a tree or Christian climbing up the ivy-clad balcony to Roxanne.
Unusually, the curtain is up from the start, with the dancers gradually appearing on stage, the men testing their swords and the ladies chatting, and the action begins in the Hotel de Bourgogue in 1640 where a crowd have gathered to watch Montfleury (Jonathan Payn) act.
David Bintley engaged a Fight Director (Malcolm Ranson), and these scenes are realistic though also done with a dash of comedy – Cyrano battling away but simultaneously taking time to flirt with the crowd. There is much battling in the first act, and at 55 minutes I thought it was overlong. I also found the costuming over-the-top with millions of flowers, flounces and frills. It surely is just wrong to cover up your dancers in baggy trousers á la Dick Dastardly, though once again the Company surpassed themselves with their synchronised airborne men, flapping boots and all. Equally perfect were the nuns in the final act, in a lovely autumnal scene. I thought their black coloured pointe shoes showed off a beautiful delicacy and fluidity that can be missed when the feet are not highlighted in this way. Willis and the other ladies of the cast had the best costumes, in particular Willis’ black mourning dress which rippled and curled behind her like molten molasses as she spun.
The comedy moments are peppered throughout the dance, often poking fun at ballet itself, the dancers mocking the (usually feared) Rose Adage in Ragueneau’s bakery using baguettes instead of roses. The inherent difficulties of a ballet that is danced-through, where there are no breaks for curtain calls, makes for difficult scene transitions but Elisha Willis and Robert Parker are adept at staying in character and the slight lulls were quickly forgotten.
Parker is an exceptional dancer, but here, as Cyrano, he is required to act his way through a full length ballet, and act he does ! There may have been the odd technical hitch on the first night, but Parker is a professional. The scene where Cyrano delays the Comte de Guiche by pretending to have fallen from the moon was so funny & so well acted by Parker that I wanted to believe him. He has the same awareness of his surroundings, even in the midst of a difficult solo, which I’ve also seen in Carlos Acosta, saving his ballerina many a time from a misplaced haystack or wayward ribbon. In Cyrano the prop count is high with no shortage of flying feathered hats, swords, letters and pies, not forgetting the aforementioned baguettes, and this foresight by Parker is a great asset.
Willis threw herself bodily into the dance with every step, showing a deep trust with her partners. With Parker this was breathtaking, sure and swift; less so her pas de deux with Guest Principal Iain Mackay, where a fumbled lift could have resulted in a serious injury. Christian isn’t an easy part to dance – sure he has the looks but he’s a bit short of adjacent brain cells and the dawning realisation that he couldn’t possibly have written all those letters to Roxanne is a bit clunky.
By the time Roxanne realises the truth in the final scene, that Cyrano’s words have filled her head and her heart and not Christian’s, he is mortally wounded, and so little seems to pass between them in the choreography you can’t help feeling that had the first act been trimmed, there might have been more space to play with here – such great dance actors as these two surely deserve it.
It’s not easy to get across a play based on writing without using words, but the scenes where the prose is ‘read’ are very well done – again, with a suitable dash of humour. All credit to Willis and Parker, with special mention to Marion Tait as Roxanne’s Duenna, who reminded me of Lises’ mother in Fille and had the same very watchable characterisation.
Cyrano is at Sadlers Wells until Saturday and yes the story is a bit mad, but you’d be mad to miss it !