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
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

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.

    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture