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City Ballet of London perform Matthew Hart's Cinderella at the Peacock Theatre 16 Dec-4 Jan (0171-314 8800)

There was a point earlier this year when ballet director Harold King thought he wouldn't make it to the ball this Christmas. His previous company, London City Ballet, finally went belly-up this summer after years of financial uncertainty. But Harold King, the Houdini of the theatrical world, lived to fight another day and emerged with a new company, City Ballet of London.

Happily, the old repertoire has survived, enabling his dancers to present Matthew Hart's sugar-frosted Cinderella at the Sadler's Wells Peacock Theatre this Christmas. The production, which premiered last year, was a remarkable achievement for a 23-year-old crafting his first full-length work.

He had help, mind you. Prokofiev's score dictates the scenario to some extent, and the long shapely shadow of Frederick Ashton's 1948 version of the ballet could hardly fail to influence the young Royal Ballet dancer who had danced the Jester, the Dancing Master and an Ugly Sister at Covent Garden. ``Basically, I stuck to the Prokofiev scenario, but it's very much influenced by Ashton. Every step I did I had to check back with the Ashton to make sure it was different.''

Like his illustrious predecessor, Hart was obliged to create the entire ballet in a mere six weeks. Not only that, the inevitable budget constraints at London City Ballet meant that he had to tailor his work to fit the sets and costumes from a previous production. This may have dictated the conventional nature of his treatment, but he was nonetheless thrilled at the opportunity. ``It was a really good experience for me. I hadn't done a three-act ballet. I didn't want to be shocking or innovative or avant garde. I wanted an updated traditional approach. I know Matthew Bourne's doing a Cinderella set in the Blitz for Adventures in Motion Pictures. These things do need to be happening to the old classics, moving them on in a new direction, but they can be moved on in a classical direction, too."

Hart's treatment of the story includes elements from the original Russian version that Ashton left out, such as the dance for the grasshoppers and dragonflies (see above). Ashton, in tribute to the British pantomime tradition, had Ugly Sisters en travesti in roles devised for himself and Robert Helpmann. Hart has reverted to the Russian tradition of having them danced by women whose ugliness is inside. ``I didn't want men dressed up as women camping it about. I wanted it to be slightly more serious, although it hasn't ended up that way. It tends to get a bit hammy because the music's funny, but I wanted the sisters to be a bit darker and more sinister.'' Mmm. Lofty words which don't quite explain the presence of Buttons on the cast list...


Anyone passing the Opera House tonight will hear shrieks of excited surprise at about 7.35pm when the audience gets its first glimpse of a tall, remarkably flexible blonde sheathed in red velvet. This new phenomenon will be making mincemeat of William Forsythe's punishing Steptext. A new discovery? No. It's Sylvie Guillem, resplendent in a blonde wig.

Tonight. Royal Opera House, London WC2 (0171-304 4000)