Review: Royal Ballet in Cinderella at Royal Opera House

Performance: in rep til 24 April 2010
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Monday 12 April 2010

Royal Ballet 'Cinderella' Dancers: Alina Cojocaru, Johan Kobborg. Photo: Dee Conway

Reviewed: 10 April 2010

Warmed by the spring sunshine streaming through the vast expanse of glass in the Royal Opera House’s Floral Hall, it suddenly struck me that I’d only ever seen “Cinders” – either in her pantomimic or balletic incarnation – during the Christmas season; and, as Cinderella dashed away from the prince’s ball before being caught by the final reverberation of the midnight chimes, it seemed even more incongruous that this ballet started not long after midday.

I confess that Cinderella is my least favourite of all Ashton ballets, but this prejudice might be about to suffer a makeover as radical as the heroine’s pumpkin, since a performance as universally charming and splendid as this one has proved every sparkle as enchanting as the Fairy Godmother’s wand.

In this case, the primary instrument of delight was the bewitching Alina Cojocaru in the title role; a heart-melting portrayal of innocent virtue delivered with a soft, yet imposing, command of all the prima ballerina’s consummate skills. Cojocaru’s stagecraft is beyond genius; this tiny being radiates warmth and personality into every corner of the Opera House’s huge auditorium, without any obvious projection; and her technique continues to add richness, especially when ideally suited to Frederick Ashton’s choreography for Cinderella. In particular, the rapidity and centred stability of her circular chaînés (a linked sequence of turns) and pirouettes was remarkable in both their speed and control; and the wistfulness of her Act I solo dance with the improvised broomstick make-believe of Prince Charming was achingly tender. All-in-all this was as definitive an interpretation as we’re ever likely to see.

Her Prince was the young British principal dancer, Rupert Pennefather, who has endured some harsh criticism in recent times but he is as princely as they come; tall, handsome, noble and unquestionably charming. He’s also a strong and attentive partner and is developing the precise virtuoso skills that will enable a continuing rise to the top of his profession. Notwithstanding the critics of today, he seems set on a course to become one of the Royal Ballet’s leading principal men in the mould of Anthony Dowell or Jonathan Cope.

The traditional hi-jinx of the two step-sisters is another cornerstone of Cinderella with roles originally played by two of the founding figures of British ballet, the choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton and Margot Fonteyn’s first partner, Sir Robert Helpmann. That tradition of ballet greats hamming it up in vibrant drag continues with Wayne Sleep taking on the more hapless and helpless of the siblings and the excellent character artist, Luke Heydon, reprising the role of the more dominant sister. Importantly these step-sisters are not played with any malicious intent (certainly more ugly, than evil!) but insensitively with equal measures of humour, pride and incompetence. Two other supporting performances of relevance were Laura Morera’s glittering cameo as the Fairy Godmother and Paul Kay’s energetic Jester. Both of these dancers encapsulated the archetypal elegant style of Ashton’s choreography, as did the four seasonal Fairies in Cinderella’s transformation scene and their respective courtiers, all displaying neat, precise steps and a lovely understated line, especially from Hikaru Kobayashi as the Fairy Winter. I often hear it said that the importing of mature dancers into the Royal Ballet has somehow diluted the purity of the Ashton style but I struggle to find a jot of evidence of this in any of these performances.

The Prokofiev score is inferior to his masterpiece for Romeo & Juliet, but it serves the narrative well and is enriched by the musicality of Ashton’s choreography. Pavel Sorokin conducted with sensitivity and passion and it was good to see his genuine appreciation of the orchestra in the curtain calls.

Although recognising that I should be applauding a timetabling policy that enables people from outside London to attend the opening “nights” of the Royal Ballet and get back home on the same day, I can’t help feeling that audience reactions are much more muted than they deserve to be when the performance finishes in the middle of the afternoon. And so it was that this delightful ‘Cinderella’ merited an ovation to shake the dust from the rafters but, instead, ended to polite applause from an audience probably wondering – as, indeed, I was – where to have a late lunch before catching the train home!

What’s On