Review – Cinderella – Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House

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Boaters have their annual opening day, but ballet and opera fans have one of their own: first day of sale for the general public for the season at the Royal Opera House. It’s a bit of a madhouse, with the ROH computers inevitably maxing out their capacity and the lucky ones merely having a sign on the computer saying “You are 1263rd in line. This page will continue to refresh. You are 1239th in line. This page will continue to refresh,” while you sit there going completely crazy imagining everyone is stealing all of the good seats while you are stuck in the ROH equivalent of purgatory, waiting for that magic moment when the page finally refreshes to show the normal calendar. It’s particularly maddening because most of the other pages on the ROH website are blanked out at the same time, so you can’t see any details about the various performances that are for sale so that you can prepare yourself (if you haven’t already done so, possibly with a paper copy of the season schedule): what will you want to buy when your time finally comes?

For me the whole thing becomes like one of those contests involving mad dashes through a grocery store, tossing as many things in your basket as you can before the time runs out and your golden opportunity is lost. When my number came up for the spring season, the “meat” aisle for me was “35 quid main floor tickets for Royal Ballet Triple Bill featuring Wayne Macgregor!” But then I still had some time left, and I went and poked around the rest of the season to see what the Royal Ballet had on offer. “La Fille Mal Gardee?” It looked (and was) cute. “Cinderella?” I’d never seen it before, and look, the first performance was on a Saturday, at 12:30, making it cheaper and easier to attend than a weeknight performance. In the basket it went, and off to the ballet I went yesterday, freshly back from my Easter travels and basically utterly ignorant of what I was going to see.

My faith was well rewarded. We started with a beautiful score by Prokofiev – I’d never heard it, although I like his music quite a lot, and as we settled down into our “normal” amphitheater seats (slightly blocked view, little leg room, great price), I caught the gorgeous, skilled notes of one of the three masters of ballet music composition. The choreography was by Frederick Ashton, one of the two men whose style is a touch point of the entire Royal Ballet style and repertoire, but someone whose work I am still just learning about. I knew as an “Ashton,” this meant it was likely to be rather old feeling (at least 40 years), and that the costumes might be just a wee bit on the dusty side, but my guess was that it was all going to feel very classical and “just right,” exactly what you want for a story ballet.

The setup itself is a bit different than the Cinderella I have in my head (which nowadays is a thin pastiche of the old fairly tale over a thick chunk of Disney, the whole thing wrapped in a ribbon of English Panto). We open with Cinderella (Alina Cojocaru) in front of her fireplace, stepsisters (Luke Heydon, Wayne Sleep) sitting nearby acting crudely, with no stepmother in sight (I thought the taller one was the mother based on how familiar she was with Mr. Ella, but per the program it was just the sisters), and a loving but witless father (Christopher Saunders) who couldn’t seem to stop his daughters from spending what little is left of his fortune. A noticeably missing character is the “evil” stepmother; her absence means there was a lot less drama and unhappiness in this version (and certainly no chopping off of toes like in the Lyric Hammersmith’s rather too faithful play). Indeed, with the gawky, cross-gender sisters, this version seemed to very much lean toward the Panto tradition, with lots of hamming, clumsy goofball dancing bits involving the Uglies, and jokes (in pantomime) about how ugly they actually are – plus the requisite stunningly heinous dresses. I’m glad I’ve been to enough Panto to “get” them; my guess is that for non-English audiences, the production’s emphasis on these two characters might have been confusing.

But we also had lots of ballet fun, especially in the drawn-out scene in which Cinder’s fairy godmother (Laura Morera) whisked her away to the “land of the fairies” (not a scene I remember from any other version!), where four fairies representing four different seasons do lovely little dances capturing the spirit of their seasons, with a cute boy and girl in appropriate costume accompanying them (reminding me of 18th century English country paintings); award for most brilliant costume had to go to icicle-gauntleted Winter (Hikaru Kobayashi), whose entrance in a cloud of smoke was truly dramatic. That said, Cinderella’s transformation was a little less than wow, and the pumpkin just seemed to be begging for Robert Wilson to get a hold of it (in fact I propose he design ROH’s new version of it in another 3 years – this one is due for a face lift) even though the pretty boy-drawn carriage that showed up to carry her away did seem most ethereal.

Then we’ve got the fun of act 2, set at court where the jester (Paul Kay) makes more of an impression than anyone else; our prince (Rupert Pennefather) winds up feeling a bit of a cipher next to him, especially with the Uglies parading around with two mismatched “suitors” (Gary Avis, Michael Stojko) in a rather heavy-handed scene I felt tired out its welcome long before it left. (The same sort of gag was done much less painfully in “Elite Syncopations.”) Cinders finally shows up, the prince falls in love, they dance, it’s midnight, we duck out for some ice cream, and in two shakes of a lamb’s tail (and 25 minutes of interval) the star-spangled toe shoe is reunited with its owner (who has to hurry off stage to actually get some tied on properly) and BANG it’s over. Two intervals, 3:10 running time, WHOOSH it’s done before you know it!

I’m afraid to say that throughout most of this ballet, I was having such a good time and being so enchanted by the show that I just utterly forgot to put my reviewer hat on and took no notes whatsoever of the performance (other than to tell myself that I must learn more proper ballet terms so I can discuss things properly with Those In The Know). Alina Cojocaru was just sweet and breathless (and apparently weightless) as Cinderella, reminding me of how incredibly spoiled I am to be able to expect such excellence in both dancing and characterization simply by virtue of having bought a ticket for this great company. Rupert Pennefeather, well, he doesn’t even show up until Act II, does he, and he doesn’t have too much to do – I don’t think the prince’s choreography was nearly as excellent as it could have been (I never had the “wow” feeling I did today while watching a selection from Don Quixote), but he carried the role well. And, damn, if there’s ever a ballet that makes little girls wish they could be ballerinas, it would be Cinderella, and with this score I have to say, it made me glad to live in a city where such riches at these are forever at my doorstop. A most excellent afternoon and highly recommended.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, April 10th, 2010. It continues through June 5th. Remember, ballet doesn’t have to be expensive; my amphitheater seats were great, though I was so distracted by the costumes I found myself wishing I was sitting much closer. For another view, please see The Arts Desk.)

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2 Responses to “Review – Cinderella – Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House”

  1. Sugarplum Says:

    You have it exactly right about the first day of public booking:

    “while you sit there going completely crazy imagining everyone is stealing all of the good seats while you are stuck in the ROH equivalent of purgatory”

    You’re not imagining it – they are! 🙂

    “For me the whole thing becomes like one of those contests involving mad dashes through a grocery store, tossing as many things in your basket as you can before the time runs out and your golden opportunity is lost.”

    That’s exactly it – I was wondering what it reminded me of! And remembering that you actually have to *pay* for it all before your time runs out and you get dumped back in purgatory so you can begin it all over again.

  2. A year in blogging – Webcowgirl’s most popular posts of 2011 – and tips for improving your blog stats « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    […] Review – Cinderella – Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House337 […]

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