Dance: Survival of the fittest

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The Royal Ballet's exile in Hammersmith was not a roaring success. But their new residence at the Royal Festival Hall promises more, based as it is on old favourites like `Cinderella'

Last year was what our Queen likes to call an annus horribilis for the Royal Opera House. Chris Smith threatened to make them houseshare with English National Opera, Gerald Kaufman's select committee report laid bare the board's incompetence, and the first opera and ballet performances of the two-year closure period met with lukewarm reviews and disappointing audiences. The Royal Ballet's doomed Hammersmith season fell way short of its target.

Would their Royal Festival Hall season do any better? Would the Covent Garden punters who had shunned Hammersmith make the pilgrimage south of the Thames? Tales of Beatrix Potter may appall critics but it is a definite audience-magnet, but the other programme on offer was more doubtful. Not only had the Royal Ballet danced Cinderella last winter, it was also in direct competition with Adventures in Motion Pictures whose wartime slipper hunt was on in the heart of the West End.

No worries. In the event, Matthew Bourne's Cinderella was a much darker reading of the story not designed to appeal to the party-frock element. Not only did AMP's Cinderella lack the U-certificate of Ashton's version; it was not in any case the popular success that Swan Lake had been. Disappointing January bookings led to AMP leaving the Piccadilly Theatre a month earlier than planned.

The Royal Ballet, meanwhile, has enjoyed healthy sales. Anthony Russell Roberts, the Royal Ballet's Administrative Director, is even more bullish than usual on the subject: "We reckon it's been very successful. The dancers have had great feedback from the warmth of the audience's reception". But they don't just love Ashton's Cinderella, they love the venue. The Royal Festival Hall has a very loyal audience used to parking up south of the Thames and enjoying the annual ballet treat. "One of the lessons we've learned about closure is that we've sold fewer seats to our regulars but there are a great deal of newcomers".

The season doesn't end till tonight so a full breakdown of the figures is impossible, but Russell Roberts is confident that they have met their target. Is that a real target or one of those extra-low targets that companies set themselves in times of crisis? "It was a very ambitious target and we will definitely make it."

`Cinderella' has its final performances today at 2pm and 7pm at the Royal Festival Hall, SE1 (0171-960 4242)

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