Perhaps in a deliberate move away from a lyrical style, the straight arms, abrupt head turns and parallel feet of the performers exude a franticness that is in stark contrast to the slow-motion quality that full-length ballets can sometimes be guilty of, giving a sense of a more modern ballet.
Clearly Ashton wasn’t one to compromise. It is pleasing to know that, while he admired Prokofiev’s score, he omitted the parts he did not like, such as the Prince’s round-the-world search for the owner of the lost slipper (or rather pointe shoe) – which is, of course, the cue for the array of national dances that full-length ballets are so fond of. And his reserved style shines through in the short final act – an anti-climax for some, but a study in understated beauty for others.
This dichotomy can to an extent be applied to the entire piece. Yes, it’s quietly brilliant, but it lacks the panache that lifts a dance piece to greatness. The choreography also feels let down by the music, which is not quite as memorable as Prokofiev’s more famous Romeo and Juliet composition and lacks the immediacy of Tchaikovsky’s ballet scores. That said, it is hard to fault the perfect musical depiction of the fairies of the four seasons, particularly the speedy cutesiness of the spring fairy’s literally springy steps and the dramatic staccatos of the fiery autumn fairy’s quirky turns.
Choreographically speaking, Ashton’s Cinderella feels like it lacks both the ‘wow’ factor and the showy technique that make a crowd-pleaser or a virtuosic classic – that’s not to say it isn’t immensely popular, of course, for the very fact that it’s, well, Cinderella.
Curiously, the step-sisters, who are firmly in the pantomime camp, feel like they have a bigger role to play than Cinderella herself. Male dancers in drag, the Step-Sisters march around the stage, trying on clothes, teasing each other, bullying Cinderella – but, frustratingly, never dancing very much. When they finally do, it’s disappointing to see that the male-dancers-doing-classical-female-parts schtick is being done by the Trocks in a much funnier way. It is when they are less in their slapstick mode that the step-sisters are funniest: in act two, with the Prince’s ball full of distinguished guests in soft pastel colours, the sisters stroll in, all garish dresses and big feathers.
Meanwhile, Roberta Marquez is our beautiful heroine. With a radiant smile that lights up the auditorium, she makes a great post-transformation Cinderella genuinely in awe of what has happened – her character only really seemed alive from then on. Thiago Soares, while looking every bit the prince, did not feel 100% comfortable in his role (though that may be due to the fact that he replaced an injured Steven McRae), with his variation in act two a little messy.
Nevertheless, there is no denying it is a magical production. The entire act two, from the pumpkin carriage that appeared out of nowhere to the clever changeover where Cinderella’s clothes turn back to her rags in front of you as the clock strikes 12, is like one big sugar-coated dream. As long as you are looking for a Cinderella of the Disney – rather than Brothers Grimm – sort.