The Royal Ballet

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THE ROYAL BALLET ROYAL OPERA HOUSE COVENT GARDEN LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM DECEMBER 23, 2003-JANUARY 10, 2004

Frederick Ashton's Cinderella has always held a special place in the repertoire of Britain's Royal Ballet. In 1948 it was the first new full-evening ballet ever to be staged for the company by a British choreographer. Of course The Royal Ballet bad produced Swan Lake, Coppelia, Giselle, and since it had moved into the Royal Opera House, Covert Garden in 1946, its production of the Petipa/Tchaikovsky The Sleeping Beauty had become virtually a signature piece. Yet a completely new full-evening work (for although the Serge Prokofiev score had already been staged in Soviet Russia by Rotislav Zakharov at Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre, even the music was little-known in London) set the seal on the company's entitlement not only to be regarded as Britain's national ballet, but also to consider Covert Garden to be its rightful, proper, and permanent home.

Those of us fortunate enough to have been at its premiere on December 23, 1948, will never forget the thrill of that evening, with its porcelain-delicate Cinderella in Moira Shearer, the gallantry of her Prince, Michael Somes, the agile virtuosity of Alexander Grant, the English pantomime expertise of Robert Helpmann and Ashton himself as the Ugly Sisters, and the all-English grace of Pamela May as the Fairy Godmother. It was this same cast, with the substitution of Margot Fonteyn for Shearer, which gave the production its U.S. debut on October 18, 1949.

The current production, which had its debut on the fifty-fifth anniversary of the ballet's premiere, has been produced by Somes's widow, Wendy Ellis Somes. The new sets are by Toer van Schayk and the costumes are by Christine Haworth.

The new staging, which will be seen in New York at the Lincoln Center Festival this summer, seems rather truer to the letter of the original than the spirit. It is all there but some element of magic is missing. Of course, nostalgia makes the heart grow fonder, particularly for the past, hut even so far as performance was concerned, these new Covert Garden casts were not the match artistically or even--and this really is surprising--technically to the 1948 original. And, here comes no help, the sets look dowdy and unimaginative, while the costumes are candified to some sweet point of no return.

I saw tour of the five current Cinderellas and her fellas--actually catching the first-night cast of Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg last, unfortunate as this was not a case where the first should be last. …