Cinders at the hop

21st November 1997 at 00:00
Janette Wolf watches a workshop on Cinderella featuring jive and Prokofiev

From the Prodigy to Prokofiev - in spite of the fact that both produce memorable dance music, it still takes a fair-sized leap of anyone's imagination to put the two together, much less teach a child to jive to them. But then, when it comes to Adventures in Motion Pictures, the ballet company that reinvented Swan Lake so successfully, anything is possible.

Choreographer Matthew Bourne sets his production of Cinderella in a London being blitzed, and as the curtain rises to air raid sirens, Prokofiev's score suits the mood perfectly. but where do the Prodigy fit in with all this?

Bourne gives an old fable not so much a new spin as a high velocity whirl, and hanging on to the plot's coat-tails is not easy. Cue AMP's education project, a small itinerant workshop which is on hand to elucidate and which uses contemporary music to appreciate classical.

In this Cinderella, the heroine's family is there with all the requisite nastiness. Bespectacled Cinders is suitably miserable and put-upon and although her fairy godmother has become a shimmeringly insouciant guardian angel, it is pretty much a case of so far, so much like the original. It is only when a bloodied RAF pilot (aka Prince Charming) staggers in through the front door in search of first aid that the story veers off into darker territory. There is a ball and a lost sparkly slipper, but there is also death, degradation and psychological anguish before Bourne lets the fairy tale resume its track.

It is fairly heavy stuff but the education project has developed four workshops to complement the work and to explain different aspects of Bourne's interpretation. These are aimed at key stage 3 and upwards, especially those already studying dance, expressive or performance arts. The workshops are led by Allison Newell, who also worked on a similar initiative for Swan Lake, and Eddie Nixon, who will be familiar to many from his former incarnation as a swan.

Hampstead School in Kilburn opts for a workshop on the Dance Hall Blitz which explores the part that dance, particularly jive, played in a society riven by war. This gives Cinderella's traditional ball theme a sharper sociological edge and there is scope here for considerable further study. At Hampstead a group mixed in ability, shape and size wrestles with a more pressing problem: with only a handful of boys, who is going to partner whom?

It is, says Eddie Nixon an authentic sign of those times: "During the war all the men, the husbands and the boyfriends were away. So all the women had to dance together."

To begin with, his charges look deeply sceptical. At an age (12-13) when self-consciousness becomes paralysing, many in the group had to take several deep breaths before they could get over a fairly hefty aversion to taking hold of one of their classmates. But there is simply no time for coyness. This workshop begins with a robustly energetic warm up and proceeds through a dizzying number of choreographic moves.

Both workshop leaders have a refreshingly non-fussy approach: "It's all about showing off," says Allison of jive. "You're saying 'look at me, I'm so cool.' " To begin with there is a chaotic jumble of crashing elbows and mistimed claps and finger clicks.

"Don't forget that bit", says Eddie optimistically as yet more couples charge round the gym the wrong way, "You're going to use that later." It did not seem possible, least of all to Prokofiev's score, but eventually it worked.

Deborah Stanniforth, Hampstead's dance and PE teacher, has been assailed ever since with requests for more jive classes, especially from the boys.

Although she has organised workshops before this was AMP's first visit. As a Swan Lake devotee, she had been impressed by the accessibility of Matthew Bourne's work and has now seen this filter down into her own classes. "It was absolutely fantastic," she says. The whole group (with only a couple of exceptions) went to see Cinderella this week, in the knowledge that after two hours with AMP, they would recognise their own efforts on stage.

Two-hour workshops for a maximum of 30 students cost Pounds 80 plus VAT. Details: Elizabeth Marshall, AMP education co-ordinator, 0171 833 5803

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