Cinderella, Royal Ballet, 17 April 2010

Frederick Ashton’s choreography gives full power to the fairy tale aspect of the story, and when Cinderella enters the ball in Act II she comes down the stairs en pointe. This gives an ethereal quality to her transfer from the world of enchantment to the human world where her frightful stepsisters cavort around in their garish costumes, hoping to attract a prince whose taste is far above theirs. In this performance, Yuhui Choe danced Cinderella with exceptional charm and refinement. Her elegant footwork and sympathetic body language marks her out as an exceptional future performer of this role.

If this ballet is mainly about Cinderella herself — and it is — there is still plenty of dancing to watch.

Jonathan Howells and Alastair Marriott as the step-sisters, photo Bill Cooper

Alastair Marriott and Jonathan Howells played the obnoxious step-sisters with great wit — Howells as the taller sister was a hoot, but never over the top. Sergei Polunin was a handsome prince and danced extremely well in this difficult role — he’s only 20 but is already a fast rising star in the Company, well worth watching in any role they give him. Francesca Filpi was a lovely fairy godmother, and Fernando Montaño was suitably acrobatic as the Jester, though I prefer a stronger stage presence. As the fairies we had Elizabeth Harrod as Spring, Hikaru Kobayashi as Summer, Samantha Raine as Autumn, and Claire Calvert as Winter. All danced well but Ms Kobayashi was exceptional as Summer — dreamy and languidly warm.

This production by Wendy Ellis Somes has been criticised for the costumes and even the sets, but I think most of this criticism is unwarranted, and there are some nice touches such as the coach appearing fully on-stage as Ashton originally wished, but couldn’t manage with the smaller space available at the time. The lighting by Mark Jonathan is excellent, and I liked the rotating speckled effect that covers the whole auditorium during the overture. It helps to engage the audience in the forthcoming stage magic. I only wish the transformation from old crone to fairy godmother in Act I were done on-stage, as was once the case. Instead the shadow of the old crone reappears outside the house, and then the fairy godmother enters through the door.

Act III, photo by Bill Cooper

Production and dancing aside this ballet would be nothing without the music, and as soon as the first bars emerged from the orchestra I was entranced. Pavel Sorokin produced excellent lyricism and tension from Prokofiev’s score, and it was an enormous relief to have a good conductor in the pit. Unfortunately he dropped the tempo at some points, particularly with the stepsisters and their father at the beginning of Act I, which forced their movements to be far too sluggish. But Sorokin is evidently a capable conductor, which makes a pleasant change. The Royal Ballet has tolerated some lacklustre conducting recently, particularly in full-length ballets such as Sleeping Beauty, so let us hope this is a permanent change for the better. The company’s dancing is superb, and deserves equally fine musical support.

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