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The Royal Ballet


A fairy tale experience

by Art Priromprintr

July 5, 2004 -- Segerstrom Hall, Orange County Performing Arts Center, Costa Mesa, California

Having recently seen a slew of ballet on a recent trip to New York, I find that none of them comes close to the overall quality of the Royal Ballet's opening night performance in Orange County. The Royal is really able to create a whole – that is, a fully formed, developed, and satisfying evening from start to finish. Everyone on stage is so invested in their roles -- they know they are putting on a story and a show, not just a bunch of dancing strung together with a loose plot. Everyone seems to believe in the story, and they play it through fully and naturally.  Each soloist was a bright and living character, and was a joy to watch. And that, I feel, is something that has been missing from the many, story ballets that I have seen recently. Dancers have inconsistently maintained character, or they seemed to be thinking through the steps more than just dancing. The Royal seemed to be in another class. I’ve always been impressed watching them on video how deeply invested in their roles and in character everyone on stage seemed to be – and seeing them live did not disappoint.

Of course, the dancing was wonderful as well. Alina Cojocaru is a fantastic dancer. was delightfully girlish as Cinderella. Her dancing was wonderfully liquid and flowing; she’s a tiny dancer but she projects very well and has a very warm stage presence. Her variations and pas de deux in the Act II ballroom scene were sublime.

Cojocaru plays Cinderella as the demure, pretty girl next door who doesn’t seem to notice how beautiful she is because her noisy sisters distract everyone’s attention. Her dancing in Act I was a bit noisy – her pointe shoes clonked around on the stage, and it seemed she was doing some excessive stomping; the problem lessened in later acts (perhaps someone told her how loud it was), but her shoes were still noticeably louder than others.

The Fairies and their variations at the end of Act I were the highlight of the evening. Isabel McMeekan, as the Fairy Godmother, carried herself with authority and poise, and dancing with a kind of melting lyricism that makes you wish she was your own personal Fairy Godmother. Christina Elida Salerno was marvelously musical as the Fairy Spring, Lauren Cuthbertson delightfully creamy and British as the Fairy Summer, Laura Morera a flamboyant (if slightly too wild) Fairy Autumn, and Marianela Nunez a beautiful Fairy Winter. Ashton’s brilliant waltz for the corps de ballet closes out Act I – another one of my favorite parts of the evening.

The only disappointment of the evening was Johann Kobborg as the Prince; he seemed to be having an off night. His jumps were a bit clunky and was unsteady on several turns. His partnering of Cojocaru was sure and steady; and, he managed a noble air despite the flubbed dancing. The Prince doesn’t get to do much in this production anyway, besides stand around and look nice – the travel-around-the-world sequence that Prokofiev wrote into the beginning of Act 3 does not appear in Ashton’s production, so the Prince gets next to nothing to do. This is very much Cinderella’s ballet.

There are also other flaws with this ballet: Ashton’s “Cinderella” is a bit deficient narratively, as it glosses over plot points to instead focus on individual moments. There is, for example, plenty of hamming from the Ugly Stepsisters - so much so that it nearly overtakes the ballet, distracting from the main story. Thank god Cojocaru was there to restore appropriate focus. And there is also quite a bit of dancing in the ballroom - almost too much. But important narrative points get glossed over, such as the Fairy Godmother’s transformation from Beggar Woman to pretty Fairy gets half a second in dim lighting, going by so fast one wonders what in the world just happened.

Then, at the end of Act II, the Prince finds a sparkly slipper. The slipper is supposed to, of course, belong to Cinderella. But she has been wearing plain white pointe shoes for the entire act: whose shoe is it then? The ballet seems to simply assume we know how the action got from point A to point B without much exposition. The lack of narrative cohesion is mostly forgiven, though, because of Ashton’s wonderful choreographic gems: the Seasonal Fairy variations, the Act I waltz for the ensemble, Cinderella’s Act II ballroom entrance, her variation and subsequent pas de deux.

It was still a great evening, though; excellent for an opening night despite the few technical flubs.   I was very, very excited as I walked out of the theater Monday night, with the kind of excitement that very rarely comes, when you know you’ve just seen something really good. I keep going back to the ballet hoping I’ll get that giddy feeling again, and last night, I got it.

Edited by Jeff.

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