Frederick Ashton's Cinderella is spiky fairy tale. Prokofiev's music is full of sharp edges, a long way from Tchaikovskian sweetness. The ballet whirls through brilliant, dreamlike ball scenes, lingers over the Ugly Sisters then rushes to its finale. This Royal Ballet revival adds its own unevenness of pace and tone, though there is some fine dancing.
Alina Cojocaru is a gentle, fleet-footed Cinderella. As she cleans crockery, bullied by her Ugly Sisters, the droop of her head is touching. Her footwork is brightly articulated, with purringly smooth bourrées. Even so, at this first performance Cojocaru went in and out of focus. Her dancing, often gorgeous, wasn't quite at full radiance, losing momentum over the course of a dance.
Rupert Pennefather, her Prince, is a tender but not assertive partner. He drifts elegantly through his own ballroom; he supports Cojocaru devotedly without projecting his own performance strongly enough.
When Ashton created Cinderella he and Robert Helpmann danced the Ugly Sisters. Helpmann was the bossy one; Ashton stole the show with his timid, would-be romantic. The Royal Ballet tends to cast bigger dancers as the Helpmann sister, so the tiny Wayne Sleep is in Ashton's role. I wish he could swap: his bright, aggressive energy doesn't suggest shyness or pathos.
Sleep is the strong one here, with vivid presence and a fierce kick to his footwork. Luke Heydon hasn't a hope of dominating him. It's a broad performance from both men, sometimes tipping into exaggeration.
Wendy Ellis Somes's production has too much fuss, from Christine Haworth's fiddly costumes to an extra appearance of Cinderella's coach in the ball scene. Having got out of the coach, Cojocaru floats down a flight of stairs to the ballroom, walking on pointe. Ashton uses a technical hurdle to make his ballerina look dreamily remote: no wonder the other guests stop to watch.
Ashton's corps dances are fascinatingly strange: the dancers plunge, stop, start and bend. This corps de ballet are tidy – the weird drama of the choreography still comes through but Pavel Sorokin's conducting needs more drive.
The divertissement of Season fairies was underpowered, though Yuhui Choe makes a delicate Summer. As the Fairy Godmother, Laura Morera dances with warmth and great lucidity.
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