Choreography by Frederick Ashton
Royal Opera House
A cat's cradle of a ballet: Perrault's fairytale reworked by an Ashton influenced by Petipa, and a Prokofiev influenced by Tchaikovsky. The threads that link... but Cinderella is no Nutcracker, nor a Sleeping Beauty, and Prokofiev's score no match for his Romeo and Juliet.
But it has its charms: Alina Cojocaru's exquisite Cinderella is worth the entrance ticket. The attention wilts when she is off stage and one has to put up with the Ugly Sisters.
Like Petipa's Nutcracker or Sleeping Beauty, Ashton's first full-length ballet, choreographed in 1948, is a ballet for the family. And like the other two it is invariably one for the Christmas festive season, but here we have it on a warm day in burgeoning spring - an enchanting Easter holiday treat for the little princesses in their tiaras in the matinee audience.
Seasonally out of synch - its two ugly sisters are panto dames after all, who are on stage for a significant part of the ballet - and a comic partnering that also feels out of synch. The dynamic may be drag but it shouldn't drag.
There seemed little cheeky dynamism from either for all the gurning of Luke Heydon's tall lanky dominant sister and Wayne Sleep's hamming as the timid stumpy one. Wrong time of year, wrong time of day, wrong mood, past their sell-by-date, who knows but the audience seemed to love them, so that's all right then.
It is a strange mix - Prokofiev's dramatic music with its Russian dissonances and deep soul and Ashton's witty and precise English traditional characterisation. They come together in the character of Cinderella and her dreams. This is where the choreography and music take off.
Alina Cojocaru's dazzling pirouettes encircling the stage at the ball reveal a giddy young girl whose head is in a spin unable to believe that for a brief moment she is living her dream. The dream she had dreamed at the kitchen hearth.
The ball music is wonderful, but its undertones suggest something not quite Never wish for what you want, you may get it? Was this a response to the Soviet dream?
Tall Rupert Pennefather makes a handsome prince; José Martin a Dancing Master straight out of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme; Laura Morera a strong Fairy Godmother; and out of the four season fairies Hikaru Kobayashi excels as Fairy Winter. Toer Van Schayk's period set designs (magical changing seasons) and Christine Haworth's costumes, especially Cinderella's long white billowing train that little girls sigh over, enhance the fairytale mood. But it is Alina Cojocaru who makes the day: the slow waltz adagio in the final act is a joy to behold.
There are six more ballerinas to enjoy and compare in the title role, each one worthy of a look. That speaks well for the Royal Ballet Company under Monica Mason's stewardship. The programming has been, and is, enticing: traditional ballets alternating with interesting triple bills. Cinderella maintains the link with the past. Michael Somes its first prince, his widow Wendy Ellis Somes this production's producer, director and supervisor.
Do try and get a central seat, as sightlines from the right side obscure Cinderella daydreaming at the kitchen hearth as well as the symmetry of the corps de ballet. And whose was the portrait that balanced that of Prokofiev on the drop curtain?
In rep till 5th June 2010
Reviewer: Vera Liber