Director: Alex Reuben.
Starring: Eleanor Sikorski, Professor Chris Frith, Professor Natalie Sebanz. UK 2017. 65 mins.
The origins of many famous folk and fairy tales remain obscure, and early versions can often be traced to multiple cultures around the globe. Why is this? Some folklorists believe the stories spread along trade routes, accumulating cultural adaptations on the way. Filmmaker Alex Reuben, however, was intrigued by another theory: that our brains may have developed a fundamental need to produce archetypal characters and narratives – causing similar stories to arise independently across the globe.
Supported by the Wellcome Trust, which funds artists and thinkers to explore the connections between science, medicine, life and art, Reuben collaborated with leading cognitive scientist Professor Chris Frith to create Gingerella (RockaFela), a fascinating new essay film that distils and synthesises common tropes from thirteen versions of Cinderella, as told across the centuries. “I combined them to form a narrative by linking the common elements, changing narrative direction as they crossed, thereby continuing themes of chance and synchronicity,” Reuben explains.
He asked dancer Eleanor Sikorski (Gingerella) to respond freely to place, language, and the idea of a dancer who lost the will to dance. “This is an improvised film about improvisation. I was interested in the neuroscience of improvisation, how we dance and make music together, the element of chance or ‘magic’ in their creation.”
With his background as a DJ, and as a filmmaker who had previously explored dance and movement in his documentary Routes: Dancing To New Orleans (2008), Reuben was well placed to continue such investigations here. But while dance plays a key role in Gingerella (RockaFela), it also offers a subtle and timely subversion of the tale of the princess (or prince) in search of a mate.
Compelling and challenging, Gingerella (RockaFela) is a cerebral cinematic meditation entwined with the graceful and delicate improvisational movements of Eleanor/Gingerella. “All the versions of Cinderella are very physical stories, which incorporate dance, violence and cruelty,” says Reuben. “What connects them all is the empathy we feel with a child’s loss, sympathy for their suffering, and our wish for a magical escape – which comes true.”
Gingerella Rockefella screens as part of The Enchanted Screen: A Season of Folk and Fairytale Films. Select cinemas only, dates vary.Find your cinema and book tickets.
Supported by a Wellcome Arts Award and Arts Council England