Don't blame it on the ballet

As the Royal Ballet's `Cinderella' and the Kirov's `Nutcracker' bow out today, Louise Levene reflects on two productions that, despite their star turns, never quite believe in their own magic

Miyako Yoshida's combination of modest sweetness and sure classical technique made her an obvious choice for Frederick Ashton's Cinderella. The touchstone of his conception of Perrault's story is gentleness. This isn't a chronicle of child abuse within a dysfunctional family, nor is it an allegory of the proletarian struggle against a decadent bourgeoisie (whatever Prokofiev's occasionally sarcastic score might suggest). For Ashton, Cinderella is the universally intelligible story of a wallflower whose dreams of sartorial splendour and social success are realised in one short magical night. Reduced to this, the tale seems a tawdry one, but the choreographer contrives, through the character of Cinders herself, to transcend bourgeois wish-fulfilment and create a story of wit, forbearance and the redemptive power of unselfish love. To pull this off, each meticulously drawn role must be enacted with total clarity, each relationship charted with scrupulous care. To be sure of our sympathy, Cinderella must show a satirical streak in her saucy parodies of the Ugly Sisters, but convey her filial devotion in the awkward tendernesses between herself and her father. It is these glimpses of the heroine beneath the rags in Act 1 that prepare us for the Prince's coup de foudre in the Ballroom.

Yoshida's Prince this season is Bruce Sansom. Neatly made, with boyish good looks and an exquisite line, he was born to dance Ashton's heroes. He acts too. In his exchanges with the Ugly Sisters (honey-roast ham from Messrs Page & Webb), his convincing air of dignity and courtesy mask a strong sense of the ridiculous. His duets with Yoshida are master-class material: he makes the long travelling lifts look painless and his eyes seldom leave his ballerina's face. The Prince's other big relationship is the curious bond between himself and the jester. Unhappily for Sansom, this role was danced by Tetsuya Kumakawa, who span and leapt fabulously but whose only relationship was, as always, with his public.

The Christmas trees may not come down until Monday but the Kirov Ballet's pink tinsel production of The Nutcracker will be put back in its tank of formaldehyde tonight after its 28th performance at the London Coliseum. Until relatively recently, the very thought of Russian ballet dancers live in captivity was enough to have ballet-fanciers and name-droppers queuing round the block on pointe, but increasing familiarity with the species has caused public enthusiasm to cool somewhat: there have been seats available for virtually every performance. Victor Hochhauser's choice of programme may have been part of the problem: three weeks is a hell of a lot of Nutcracker and only crazy balletomanes and stir-crazy critics bother to catch different casts. With a more varied schedule you stand a chance of getting some multiple bookings. Even the dancers look bored: stuck in the same roles night after night (presumably to save on extra wigs and costumes), they dance on auto-pilot and gossip visibly upstage. In July, the company returns with treats like Don Quixote, Giselle and The Firebird, plus some hoped-for guest appearances by Sylvie Guillem, which may all prove more inspiring for box-office and dancers alike. Stars always make a difference.

Anyone dragging themselves away from their turkey rissoles on Boxing Day in the hope of seeing New York City Ballet star Igor Zelensky before he becomes Darcey Bussell's guest partner in February would have been as disappointed as I was to see the words "Faroukh" and "Ruzimatov" typed in his place. Once possessed of a certain snorting appeal, this extremely handsome dancer has degenerated into a mannered pastiche of his former self. He was partnering Diana Vishneva, the archetypal Kirov ballerina of the Nineties: tall, svelte, technically assured and with all the warmth and originality of an After Eight mint.

The stock response to such criticism is to blame the ballet. Igor Zelensky has made it clear that it holds no particular interest for him: "It's for the children, not for the ballet dancers." With this production (and let's face it, many, many other productions), you can sympathise with such an attitude, but once a dancer starts to think like that, you can wave goodbye to a truly great performance. A classical dancer is required to believe six impossible things before breakfast. Asylmuratova and Mukhamedov inhabit such a wonderland and can move you to tears in scenarios as slight as the Nutcracker. In this ballet, Zelensky moves us only to applause. He wasn't bad, though. On Wednesday night, his partnering was a little over-anxious here and there - an occupational hazard when you're scheduled to dance with a different girl every day of the week. But his powerful jump, his meticulous landings and his altogether rather meaty classicism were a welcome sight. Roll on February.

Final performances today: Kirov `Nutcracker', 2.30pm, 7.30pm London Coliseum, WC2 (0171-632 8300); Royal Ballet `Cinderella' 12 noon, ROH, Covent Garden, WC2 (0171-304 4000)

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...