Posts Tagged ‘frederic ashton’

Review – Cinderella – Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House

April 11, 2010

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.)

Royal Ballet’s “Sylvia” – Royal Opera House

April 2, 2008

As I saw this show on closing night (and I’ve got about a show a night this week and little time for writing), I’m going to make this review fairly brief. “Sylvia” sells itself as a pretty, full-length Ashton ballet. We were drawn by the lovely posters, featuring a tunic-clad Greek goddess type blowing a hunting horn, and the music, which is by Delibes, composer of the brilliant Coppelia. I was also interested in seeing a full-length Ashton ballet, as his short works had been of somewhat mixed quality (Les Patineurs brilliantly excepted) and, as a recent arrival to these shores, I have been wanting to become better aquainted with the local idea of good choreography rather than staying hide-bound in my little Balanchine-centered ballet world. (I’d previously seen The Tales of Beatrix Potter.)

Even though this ballet has been recut and rearranged by Christopher Newton, it can’t get past its age and … God only knows what else is holding it back, but this is a musty old basket from the ballet basement and while it isn’t horrid, it’s just not interesting, not enough to see twice and not enough to recommend to anyone other than people who want to fill in their ballet history. I say this despite the fact that with Marianela Nunez dancing I really could not have asked for a more elegant lead. She was fantastic in the second act’s seduction scene, my favorite part of the ballet. But the rest of the characters and the story were just so stale and painful I could barely stand it. The villain (Orion) was out of a Disney cartoon; the entire plot seemed to be a missed episode for Fantasia, a sexless Greece with pretty gods dancing prettily and villagers pushing charming carts and holding lambsies and hoes. The costumes looked like they were pulled from a girl’s bedroom circa 1952, and the sets were hobbled by the past in a way I’ve only ever imagined American opera is, clinging desperately to the recognizable incarnations of “high art” by being pathetically realistic and overdesigned. Seeing this ballet made me understand why people think this is a dying art, especially considering what was happening contemporaneously with on the American stage.

Thanks to a gorgeous violin solo in the third act, I didn’t consider the night so terrible as to be unredeemable, but I was just not sold, even though there were dancing goats. With luck, a week of modern dance will wash this whole thing right out of my mind and the next time I go to the ROH it will be something where the choreography takes advantages of the fantastic talent made available to it instead of smothering them in tripe.

(This review is for a show that took place on Monday, March 31st, 2008.)

Apologies for a lack of posting

January 17, 2008

Well, after the frenzy of the holidays, it’s almost no surprise that I’d start the year exhausted – only it’s been a cold that’s taken me out. I managed to drag myself to the extremely charming Les Patineurs at the Royal Ballet on January 8th (I also saw the, er, cutesy but rather too long Tales of Beatrix Potter, what can you say about it but, “Yeah, those are world class ballerinas wearing squirrel costumes”), but haven’t been able to hold my head up long enough to write about it.

I have, however, cast my eyes toward the future. Coming up next is Othello at the Donmar, then hopefully Human Steps at Sadler’s Wells. In the next few months, I’m looking forward to seeing Chroma at the Royal Ballet (and hopefully Sylvia), Speed the Plow at the Old Vic, The Good Soul of Szechuan at the Young Vic (Brecht!), Dealer’s Choice at Trafalgar Studios (thanks to the ten quid tickets on Last Minute), Shen Yun at the Southbank Center, and the Pinter double feature at the Comedy Theatre. I’ve also got my eyes on The Mikado at ENO and the yum yum City Ballet at the same venue (two of the shows, the new choreographers and Jerome Robbins pieces). I want to buy tickets for them all NOW (oh, and the Chinese Opera at Sadler’s Wells this June) but post-Christmas finances are forcing austerity on me for now. Soon, my pet, soon!