Cinderella, Royal Opera House, London

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The Independent Culture

The Royal Ballet's production of Prokofiev's score should thrive on the spiky choreography of Frederick Ashton. Instead, it's muffled by the mess and clutter of Wendy Ellis Somes' production.

Created in 1948, Ashton's is already an uneven ballet. Prokofiev's music has edge and bite, but it's oddly proportioned: so much music for the Ugly Sisters, so little for Cinderella and her Prince. In early scenes, Marianela Núñez is a sad Cinders, but she needs to make more of the heroine's loneliness and pathos. Gary Avis and Philip Mosley thump their way through the Ugly Sisters' squabbles; they're emphatic but under-characterised.

Nuñez is better in the ballroom scene, dancing with expansive warmth. In one solo, Cinderella turns her back on the audience, then melts into a backbend. Nuñez is both grand and tender here, and Rupert Pennefather is suitably princely as the hero, partnering her tenderly.

The ballroom has the best of the evening's dancing, with sharp-edged, delicate dances for the courtiers. As midnight strikes, they become unnervingly mechanical, a wall of clockwork automatons barring Cinderella's way home.

The season fairies should delight, but they are prim and dull. Samantha Raine's autumn stays upright when her whirling turns should tilt off balance. As summer, Yuhui Choe has beautiful line, but Ashton's details are lost: a sensuously mopped brow is now a vague wave of the hand. The corps de ballet do better, dipping and tilting through their waltz.

It's a fidgety production, from Christine Haworth's over-frilled costumes to Ellis Somes' many little additions. Cinderella's ballroom entrance, floating down a staircase, should be magical. Instead, Ellis Somes brings the coach to the top of the stairs, upstaging her heroine with footmen, footstools and fuss.

To 31 December (020 7304 4000)

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