A story of dreams come true, the 1948 Cinderella was the first three-act ballet created for The Royal Ballet by its founder choreographer Frederick Ashton.
Choreographed to Prokofiev’s gloriously eloquent score, this most Ashtonian of ballets is one of the gems in the company’s repertoire; yet, it had not been seen at Covent Garden for well over a decade. But now The Royal Ballet marks its 75th anniversary with a brand-new production. It is magnificent.
In Tom Pye’s designs, the vaulted house where Cinderella lives with her ineffectual father and overbearing stepsisters has a wide mullioned window at the back, through which we can see leafless tree branches, hinting at genteel decay.
The second act takes place in the gardens of an imposing palace, all turrets, balconies and gilt gates.
And when the fairies arrive to take Cinderella to the ball, the house gradually and imperceptibly turns into a forest glade, with flower projections subtly defining each of the four seasons.
Cinderella, The Royal Ballet. Photo: © 2023 Tristram Kenton
Alexandra Byrne’s costumes mostly in pastel colours for the revellers at the ball, acquire season markers for each of the fairies: green and yellow for the Spring fairy (Anna Rose O’Sullivan, delightfully nimble), red and orange for Summer (Melissa Hamilton, warm and languorous), tones of brown for Autumn (Yuhui Choe, swirling like falling leaves) and cold white for Winter (Mayara Magri, sharp as icicles).
Illusions by Chris Fisher and video design by Finn Ross bring magic to what is very much a story about time and transformation.
All this would count for little without sublime dancing, but to the last person the dancers of The Royal Ballet rose to the occasion, even if the precise, famed Ashton style, with its signature use of the back, the epaulement, came more naturally to some than others.
On opening night Cinderella and her Prince were Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov, ballet royalty both. Nuñez, whose 25 years with the company were recognised with the award of a special medal at the end of the performance, was utterly entrancing as the ragged scullery maid who dreamily dances with her broom, but turns into a the regal stranger who instantly wins the Prince’s heart.
Vadim Muntagirov and Marianela Nuñez in Cinderella, The Royal Ballet. Photo: © 2023 Tristram Kenton
Muntagirov’s Prince, his dancing both expansive and meticulous, was a prize well worth winning... and as the happy couple slowly ascended a staircase showered with glitter in the final apotheosis, our hearts were well and truly won over.
It is a mark of Ashton’s genius that into this he was able to bring a deliriously comic element, without unbalancing the overall feel of the ballet. The stepsisters, generally danced by men in the tradition of English panto, are not evil, just affectionately silly squabbling grotesques.
Gary Avis and Luca Acri in Cinderella, The Royal Ballet. Photo: © 2023 Tristram Kenton
We knew Gary Avis, perhaps the best dance actor of his generation, would relish the role of bossy sister, and so he did; Luca Acri, tremendously funny as the gormless sister, was a true revelation.
Fumi Kaneko, a Cinderella to come, was radiant as the commanding Fairy Godmother, her mime, as she reminded Cinderella of the pressure of time, clear and urgent.
Fumi Kaneko in Cinderella, The Royal Ballet. Photo: © 2023 Tristram Kenton
This Cinderella must count as the highlight of The Royal Ballet’s 22/23 season; definitely a keeper, it’ll be a treat for adults and children alike for many future seasons.
|What||The Royal Ballet, Cinderella review|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
27 Mar 23 – 03 May 23, 19:30 Mats available (consult website) Dur.: 2 hours 45 mins approx inc two intervals
|Website||Click here to book|