Cinderella @ Royal Opera House, London

performed by
Alina Cojocaru, Rupert Pennefather, Luke Heydon, Wayne Sleep, Christopher Saunders, Laura Morera, Jose Martin, Mark Greensill, David Hanesworth, Ernst Meisner, Celisa Diuana, Demelza Parish, Michael Stojko, Jonathan Watkins, Ludovic Ondiviela, Iohna Loots, Yuhui Choe, Helen Crawford, Hikaru Kobayashi, Paul Kay, Ricardo Cervera, Bennet Gartside, Valeri Hristov, Sergei Polunin, Gary AvisFrederick Ashtons 1948 production of Prokofievs Cinderella tends to be seen as Christmas fare.

But a sunny day in April can bring its own brand of magic, which makes the act of entering the Royal Opera House to enjoy this classic ballet feel entirely appropriate and highly uplifting.

And once inside the auditorium one is treated to the most mind-boggling performance from Alina Cojocaru as Cinderella. Her movements are beautifully fluid, with every extended limb possessing a wondrous curve, and her timing is so precise that every frozen pose generates a breathtaking moment because it has been arrived at so cleanly.
Cojocaru also proves a fine actress in the role, conveying a real sense of downtrodden despair, but then lightening up (and proving incredibly nimble of foot) as she daydreams of being whisked away from the drudgery of her life.

Rupert Pennefather as the Prince deserves praise for not being overshadowed by Cojocaru who has a far more substantial role. Their Act Two pas de deux is particularly memorable as Pennefather lifts Cojocaru, who in turn knocks her legs together like a pair of scissors opening and closing at high speed.

At the other end of the spectrum are the priceless comic turns of two old hands, Wayne Sleep and Luke Heydon, as the Ugly Sisters. Playing on their relative heights, they form a little and large duo who spin necklaces around their neck, fight over shawls and oranges, and try to kiss every man they can at the ball. Their dance with the suitors, Gary Avis and Michael Stojko, who frequently fail to turn or catch them, is a comedy highlight, but still the way in which they plead with the Prince to accept them after the slipper hasnt fit their foot, and then slink off relatively quietly when they realise that the game is up, has real pathos.

Other strong performances come from Laura Morera as the Fairy Godmother who glides across the stage on points, the sparkling scenery being matched by the magic in her step, and from Iohna Loots, Yuhui Choe, Helen Crawford and Hikaru Kobayashi as the Fairies of the Four Seasons. Though each has a very individual style that comes to the fore in their solos, they conform well when they dance as a group without entirely losing their individuality. There is also some fine ensemble dancing, especially at the Princes ball, where Christine Haworths exquisite costume designs contribute to the overall effect.

Toer van Schayks scenery is generally ‘two-dimensional’ so that panelling and columns are painted flat onto the sets, and it is a nice touch that a mantelpiece sports pictures of Prokofiev and Ashton. Meanwhile in the pit, Pavel Sorokin hardly puts a foot wrong. With every note of Prokofievs score being geared towards portraying a specific character or mood, the frequently spiky and agitated music demands incredible attention to detail, balance and pace. But the Orchestra of the Royal Opera meets the challenge well, and the result is a production that should leave you feeling all warm inside, whatever the time of year.

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