20 April 2010

Cinderella - The Royal Ballet @ The Royal Opera House, Saturday 17th April 2010


Cinderella: Miyako Yoshida
Prince: Steven McRae
Stepsisters: Wayne Sleep, Luke Heydon
Cinderella’s Father: Christopher Saunders
Fairy Godmother: Laura Morera
Spring Fairy: Iohna Loots
Summer Fairy: Hikaru Kobayashi
Autumn Fairy: Akane Takada
Winter Fairy: Claire Calvert
Jester: Paul Kay

Creative Team:
Music: Prokofiev
Choreography: Frederick Ashton
Set: Toer van Schayk
Costumes: Christine Hayworth
Lighting: Mark Jonathan

Strange to see a production of Cinderella when the sun is blazing outside, and sad to see the great Miyako Yoshida at one of her last performances in the UK for the Royal Ballet as she retires from the stage in June this year. And doubly sad that this performance looked under-rehearsed by some of the minor principals and the stage technicians. And trebly sad that the audience was so badly behaved.
Regular readers of my reviews will know how much I rave about Yoshida’s performance in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker, so it was kind of Him Indoors to stump up for tickets for me to see her in this production. The place was packed to the rafters, with many Japanese people among the audience – Yoshida is hugely popular with her countrymen, who will get to see her dance her last role – Juliet – in Tokyo later this year. The place was also packed with people who didn’t know how to behave at the ballet; a whiny 10 year old girl at the end of the row who didn’t go to the toilet during the interval and consequently fidgeted throughout the whole of Act 2, the woman in the row in front who neglected to turn off her mobile phone which then, of course, rang in her handbag several times during one of the quiet bits, the couple next to her who only had one pair of opera binoculars between them and spent the entire evening taking off their spectacles, putting them on the top of their head, focussing the binoculars on the stage for 30 seconds or so, replacing their spectacles and then passing the binoculars right across my sightline to the other, and the couple in front of them who found it necessary to chatter loudly to each other on several occasions, earning one of the loudest shushes I have ever made in public. Then there was the couple who didn’t know where their seats were and made everyone in the row get up so they could wiggle past, and then made everyone get up again when they realised they had been in the right place the first time and had to wiggle all the way back again. Much more and I’d have been hammering on the ticket office door for a private box.
Sadly, the performance looked a bit wobbly in a lot of places. There were problems with some of the sets which didn’t open out properly. There was some very scrappy dancing by a couple of minor characters, and lots of spacing and lining problems from the corps. One of the Season Fairies (Summer, I think) fell off her pointe at the end of her solo, and the Autumn Fairy should be relegated to sweeping the stage (of dust, if not fallen leaves). The sweet lickle kiddiwinkles who accompany each Season Fairy were obviously thrown on with no rehearsal as very few of them had any real idea of where to stand, ending up in dark spots or completely out of line with everyone else. Still, we were all really there just to see Miyako and she didn’t disappoint. She has the most remarkable hands and wrists, which she uses so gracefully that she stands out from everyone else even when surrounded by other dancers doing the same steps. Of course, she’s so tiny that the role of Cinderella is perfectly suited to her anyway, but she seems to dance everything with such joy. There’s no real dark side to Ashton’s version of the story anyway – no evil stepmother and the stepsisters are straight out of panto with their comical hideousness. Many moons ago I saw a version of Cinderella choreographed by Matthew Bourne (him of the all male Swan Lake), in which Cinders’ life was really made a living hell by her nasty step-siblings and their horrible mother, which gave some much-needed light and shade to the story (and also some context as Cinders' mother appeared briefly at the beginning. In Ashton-land, however, the family seem to be rubbing along quite cheerfully. The production feels skimped by Ashton. The transformation scene (such as it is) is in dire need of some major magic, there’s no grand pas de deux for Cinders and her prince in Act III and nothing approaching any psychological depth. On the other hand, so much time is taken up by the cavortings of the Step-sisters (Ashton wrote one of the roles for himself) that there’s little time to emphasise anything else and the bloody Jester dominates Act 2 so much that frankly he gets on my tits, making the Prince a mere cipher in terms of stage time. The inclusion of 12 ballerinas representing the Hours was a good idea by Ashton, but they feel underused and could be utilised more effectively than merely turning up in the kitchen and hopping round the place. For instance, what would be wrong with them forming a semicircle round Cinders and the Fairy Godmother during the latter’s explanation that she must be home by midnight and each using her arms to portray a different hour on the dial ? There’s bugger all else for them to do, frankly, so they might as well make themselves useful.

Anyway, I shall now stop playing the frustrated choreographer. Wayne Sleep, who must be in his sixties by now, gave a wonderfully energetic and comic Stepsister, but wasn’t matched by Luke Heydon in terms of energy, attack or even apparent commitment to his role. Laura Morera, however, was a grand and gracious Fairy Godmother

It’s a shame that the Royal Ballet didn’t let Yoshida open this revival (her last UK role) and thus get the reviews, all of which go to Alina Cojucarou who danced on the opening night. We’ll be sad to see you go, Mikayo; you were an ornament to our stage.

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