As we watch, cocooned in the dark, the cavernous arched ceiling of a shadowed kitchen erupts with quicksilver lights, transforming into a stunning midnight blue night sky. Later, these magnificent state-of-the-art projections erupt with feasts of fruits and flora before the entire ceiling and huge mullioned windows crack apart to reveal a vast misty, moonlit vista.
Cinderella is going to the ball and the Royal Ballet’s brand-new production glimmers with moments of real fairytale wonder, led by a sublime Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov on opening night.
You can also watch them in cinemas in a live broadcast from the Royal Opera House on April 12 Marking the 75th anniversary of Frederick Ashton’s ballet, lavish sets by Tom Pye include a spectacular three-dimensional turretted chateau backdrop for Act Two and a beautiful infinite staircase soaring into the heavens for the climax.
Oscar-winning costume designer Alexandra Byrne brings exquisite detailing to characters. Cinderella and her prince dazzle in glimmering cloaks but equally impressive is the hunched, angular beggarwoman robed in black and wreathed in tangled twigs.
She transforms in a swirl of dry ice into the statuesque Fairy Godmother gleaming in shimmering blue (a flawless Fumi Kaneko).
Her four fairies of the seasons (each with wings to match the theme), who deliver a succession of fiendishly difficult solos with formidable flair.
Their child attendants are garbed as extraordinary flowers while the stepsisters are frou-frou tulled pink, purple, and green fondant fancies.
Times changes so we no longer have ‘ugly sisters.’ Exuberantly played by Gary Avis and Luca Acri, they are selfish and graceless but no longer cruel or grotesque, and the humour suffers a little for it.
Buffoonery apart, this is a subtle ballet, filled with intricate solos and complex group numbers, danced with impeccable precision by the company.
Ashton’s choreography requires a very particular turn to the foot and holding of the frame and is impressively handled.
Rare among blockbuster ballets, there’s no Grand Pas de Deux for the principals to flourish their prowess.
Instead, quiet delights abound. Walking downstairs rarely elicits gasps, but during the ball scene Nuñez seemingly floats down en pointe. Breathtaking.
Later on, Muntagirov wows in turn, descending another staircase, arms aloft, regally brandishing his partner overhead in glorious repose.
Her incomparable finessed footwork is sublime in successive circular series of flickering steps and pirouettes. He seizes rare moments to showboat with muscular elegance.
Some small caveats, though. Cinderella’s carriage pulled by giant mice impresses but I expected a more dazzling pumpkin and dress transformation and the traditional ensemble tutus slightly underwhelm.
Ashton’s uneven storytelling also sags with thrilling bursts of choreography but little real dance for the principals in Acts One or Three.
I wish more character and costume boundaries had been pushed but this is still a spectacular addition to the repertoire.
- The Royal Ballet’s Cinderella is at The Royal Opera House until May 3. Live cinema relay on April 12, roh.org.uk
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