Cinderella is an easy ballet to like. Frederick Ashton made it for The Royal Ballet in 1948, his first full-length production, and it’s a faithful, and very pretty retelling of the much-loved fairytale. Ashton clearly tracks the story of the put-upon Cinders and her unhelpful family, making skilled use of both ballet’s doily-delicate steps and the gutsier tradition of British panto.
The opening performance of The Royal Ballet’s current run featured Alina Cojocaru as Cinderella and Rupert Pennefather as her Prince, and while both danced to perfection, Pennefather was all shining nobility while Cojocaru lacked consistent radiance. It’s impossible to fault her dancing – she is one of the best ballerinas in the world today – yet the Royal’s Romanian-born star often looked glum, plus she made little impact in Act I, although it has to be said that Ashton doesn’t give Cinderella much to do in the opening scenes.
These are dominated by the Ugly Sisters who are busily preparing for the ball. Both are hoping to catch the eye of the Prince, although as the roles are always danced by men, we know where that fantasy will end. Ashton created the Sisters on himself and Robert Helpmann, and ever since the pair have been danced as a pair of ripe pantomime dames.
Wayne Sleep and Luke Heydon were the Sisters at the opening performance and each made the role their own. It has to be said that both occasionally over hammed, but Sleep’s silly smaller sister and Heydon’s big rumbustious sister both revealed all our romantic delusions. Neither has a clue about their temperaments and abilities, let alone romantic reality, and their cack-handed attempts at winning the prince were hilarious.
The Royal’s current production of Cinderella is its fourth. It dates from 2003, when new sets and costumes were created by Toer Van Schayk and Christine Haworth. Schayk’s sets look a little thin, especially the ballroom at the palace, but Haworth’s costumes are a nice mix of panto exaggeration and ballet’s prettiness.
Other performance highlights Laura Morera’s Fairy Godmother and Christopher Saunders as Cinderella’s father. Special mention to conductor Pavel Sorokin who drew from the orchestra a bright reading of Prokofiev’s glorious score.