Tick tock goes the clock on the backdrop at the start, reappearing at the end of Act 2 towards midnight, projected on the ballroom floor. This is the new Royal Ballet production of Prokofiev’s Cinderella. It uses Frederick Ashton’s choreography, first seen in 1948, with the nasty step-sisters played by Robert Helpmann and Ashton himself.
He had originally intended them to be played by women, but the two he chose took another engagement. So Ashton changed his mind. This was shortly after the Second World War and it was his first full length ballet, following two one-act creations, Symphonic Variations and Scènes de Ballet. He created it over a frenetic period of about six weeks, with Margot Fonteyn as the first Cinderella. When she was injured the role was taken by Moira Shearer, star of the film The Red Shoes that same year.
The choreography sparkles with musicality. Ashton is especially brilliant at depicting the passage of time, as the Fairy Godmother warns about the dangers of dallying at the ball.
In this Gala performance celebrating the new production, the excellent partnership of Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov as Cinderella and her Prince excelled in the wonderful fairy tale ending. Nuñez is on the stage right from the start, the butt of humour and disdain from her step-sisters. Still on stage at the end of the performance, she found herself astonished to be awarded a medal for 25 years of service with the Company. A moving occasion to be sure, enhanced by a terrific cast.
The magic really starts with the appearance of the Fairy Godmother, transformed from an old beggar woman who attracts Cinderella’s sympathy. Performed beautifully by Fumi Kaneko, she conjures up in Act 1 the fairies representing the four seasons, each dancing an elegant variation, with Mayara Magri showing particular grace as Winter.
As the ball begins in Act 2 the jester appears, danced with brilliance and exceptional jumps by Taisuke Nakao, showing himself more than a match for the two appalling step-sisters. Their challenging roles have to occupy a middle ground between quiet folly and pantomime, but the performances were well judged by Luca Acri and the estimable Gary Avis, who also worked with Wendy Ellis Somes to create the new staging.
Wonderful set designs by Tom Pye and costumes by Alexandra Byrne were all lit by David Finn, even if it is still a work in progress to get such large productions perfect. More care needs to be taken, with darker lighting, in the magical reversion from beautiful young belle of the ball back to scullery maid, which was too obvious from the upper reaches of the House. But overall this is a worthy setting for the lightness of touch in Ashton’s choreography, superbly supported by the fine performance of Prokofiev’s music under the baton of Koen Kessels.
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