DANCE / Riches from rags: Stephanie Jordan on Darcey Bussell as Cinderella at Covent Garden

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The Independent Culture
ASHTON's Cinderella is one of those hardy ballets, so strong in architecture and varied in feeling that it survives even when its detail is slackly realised. Nowadays, indeed, it is routine for the younger Royal Ballet dancers not to believe fully in Ashton steps and style. It is a pleasure, then, to see that Darcey Bussell, making her debut in the title role, is already warming to some of the finer points of the ballet.

The phrasing and shape of her movements are wonderfully clear, and while she doesn't make an issue of the emphases already in the music, you sense her musical security - few dancers provide that tension between waywardness and reassurance. It is her adagio Ashton that is most impressive, perhaps because it is in this that the choreographer relates most closely to the 19th-century Russian style. She is less successful, less able to build pressure, in the tighter, faster choreography of her solos. In acting terms, too, her Cinderella blossoms unnaturally early - she is a princess even in rags - except that, at the very end, she raises the level of her radiance yet further.

Most of the other dancers sharing Bussell's matinee debut on Monday demonstrated the problems of Ashton's style, failing to link the inclination of the head with the musculature of the back, or to understand that motion between tricky positions of upper body and arms lightens the look of the arms and hands. Then, what can easily look eccentric becomes fascinating and expressive.

We are forgetting, too, that Ashton's rhythms are some of the most scintillating in the business. Fairy Winter snatches up on to pointe and turns sharply to the side in arabesque, a plain step repeated four times, except that the rhythm changes. Elizabeth McGorian blurs the differences here, and an icy excitement is lost.

Of the men, Zoltan Solymosi makes a good-mannered Prince. David Bintley and Stephen Wicks work together splendidly as the ugly sisters, one bossy, one befuddled. The intensity of invention and range of character that Ashton provides in this relationship is miraculous. Even when you know that it can be better, Cinderella remains wonderful.

'Cinderella' is in rep at the Royal Opera House to 3 February. Darcey Bussell dances 8, 23 January. See ticket offer, opposite