Arts: Dance: Too many bad fairies

Royal Ballet: Cinderella Royal Festival Hall London
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A PUZZLE: the musicians playing Prokofiev's Cinderella for the Royal Ballet at the Festival Hall are billed as "the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House". But so are those busy on the same evenings performing operas by Smetana or Rimsky-Korsakov at Sadler's Wells. Has somebody in the Covent Garden organisation solved the problem of being in two places at once? Or are some audiences being fobbed off with substitutes?

Whatever the answer (and we can all make a wicked guess), the Royal Ballet's music director Andrea Quinn conducts Prokofiev's score with every appearance of loving it: we get beautiful tempi, even if the tone of the orchestra is not always ideal. At the performance I saw, she stayed at the end to applaud the dancers, including Sara Wildor's debut in the title part.

This suits Wildor a lot better than her other recent new roles, largely because one of her best gifts is bringing out the meaning and emotion of what she is playing, and Frederick Ashton's choreography is rich in those qualities (something not all Wildor's colleagues seem to notice). It would help if she could find a more defining make-up for the middle act, where the lighting and her blue costume, together with her own pale colouring, hold back her expressions from carrying. With her lovely big eyes and even lovelier, bigger smile, this is a pity.

She headed a cast in which some of the other soloists also were an improvement on their recent predecessors. Peter Abegglen and Alastair Marriott kept their humour lively as the step-sisters without going over the top (which is more than could be said of their reluctant suitors at the ball).

Jonathan Howells, a surprisingly tall choice for the jester, danced his many solos with plenty of vim, bounce and brilliance, and made a welcome attempt to restore some of the characterisation too often missing from that role.

This being a reason of goodwill, let me pass silently over those cast members who fall into the trap of playing this ballet as if it were a Christmas panto, and let me hope quietly that one day we shall again see the long sequence of solos and ensembles for the fairies of the seasons danced with the clarity, warmth and style we used to take for granted.

Meanwhile, rejoice that the corps de ballet of evening stars who accompany them show attractive cohesion and zest, and obviously relish those moments when they explode into centre stage and hold it for their own moments of swift, dipping, stretching, circling glory. Now that's what the whole of this potentially beautiful and much loved ballet ought to look like.