Cinderella is a narrative we are all very familiar with, but Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production is a spectacle like no other. David Bintley’s elegant choreography mirrors the beauty of the extravagant set. Winning Best Classical Choreography at the prestigious 2011 Critic’s Circle National Dance Awards, Bintley’s production returns for a sensational UK tour.
Opening at Birmingham Royal Ballet’s home theatre The Birmingham Hippodrome, principal dancers Joseph Caley and Momoko Hirata dance together once again on the opening night of Cinderella. I was lucky enough to witness their beautiful chemistry and seamless movement in Romeo and Juliet last year, and they are polished, precise and utterly mesmerising.
Chatting to Momoko and Joe, it was evident that this is a ballet that they care so deeply about. “This is a very special production for me,” Momoko told me. “I was lucky enough to be part of it right from the start, when he first created it back in 2010. Also that was my last ballet before I went away to work with another company. It is nice to be doing this ballet again because it is an absolutely beautiful production.”
Momoko has been dancing with BRB since 2003, and Joe joined the company in 2005. Since then, they have danced together in many ballets and pair together flawlessly. “I really enjoy dancing with Momoko,” Joe told me. “I think we really work well together and she is super easy to partner.” Momoko expressed her admiration for Joe as a dancer: “We have danced together for many years and we know each other really well, so everything feels really smooth.”
In this particular production, it isn’t just the dance that is impressive. The set is known for being BRB’s most breathtaking staging. “The set and the design of the ballet really bring it all to life,” Joe explained. “It is a very well constructed ballet, David did a great job putting it all together, I can’t even imagine doing something like that. But when you see it on stage, the set, the costume and the company – it really comes together and it looks like a really great ballet.”
As Momoko worked on the production in the early stages, she has an incredible understanding for the character of Cinderella and the meaning behind each step of her choreography. “My favourite part is definitely the second act,” Momoko told me. “As it is when Cinderella transforms into the princess, and the production’s vibe really shifts as everyone is looking at you in a different way.” Momoko gets to wear a stunning costume: “It’s my favourite tutu, however it is really hard to dance in because there are so many details and it doesn’t really stretch. So I have to make sure I wear it in and soften it up.”
Another challenge for Momoko is the dancing in the first act, as it is entirely danced with bare feet. “Cinderella doesn’t get to wear pointe shoes until the second act,” she explained. “That was a challenge for all the girls as it is a very different technique.”
Similarly, Joe finds his role of the prince challenging as it requires a tremendous amount of stamina. “I enjoy it as it is very rewarding because it is very hard,” he said. “Once the prince comes on in act 2, you are literally non stop. You don’t really have time to come off stage and have a breather, and unlike most pas de deux where you take it in turns to solo after the pas de deux, we dance our solos before we dance together. So by the time it gets to the moment where I have to partner Cinderella, I am completely shattered – so that is a challenge.”
Being the incredible standard that they are, it is evident dance has always been an immense part of both Joe and Momoko’s lives. “My sisters all danced, and there was a ballet studio round the side of my house so it was natural for me to start dancing,” Momoko said. “I then did a ballet competition and got into the Royal Ballet School which is where it all started.”
Joe was a heavily active child, and embraced all aspects of sport. “I played football, did karate and even went to cubs,” Joe said. “My sister danced, and one day my mum took me along to one of her classes and I got into it. Then one thing led to another and I got into Junior Associates and they encouraged me to audition for Royal Ballet. I wasn’t searching for it, I just enjoyed it. When I was about aged 13/14, I realised I was actually quite good, and I started to really work hard and it paid off.”
Birmingham Royal Ballet are one of the most prestigious companies in the world, and both Momoko and Joe feel incredibly lucky to be a part of such an excellent and thriving company. “It has a great atmosphere,” Joe explained. “Everybody is super friendly and they allow us to work in an environment where there isn’t too much pressure on us. Everyone wants to do a great show, but they don’t make it mega stressful – I think that can make someone crumble on stage.” Momoko added: “What I love the most is that we have a director that is also a choreographer, it is a great opportunity for us as dancers to see that creation, it keeps me really inspired. However, I also fell in love with Birmingham Royal Ballet because of the rep we get to do.”
After opening at the Birmingham Royal Ballet, Cinderella will embark on a UK tour to five theatres around the UK, and taking the show to each venue is a military operation. With a fleet of articulated lorries harnessing the equivalent power of 4000 horses, Birmingham Royal Ballet aren’t holding back in regards to what they are best known for – creating a magic, magnificent and utterly show-stopping production.