English National Ballet’s Cinderella has sumptuous sets (designed by David Walker), a ravishing Prokofiev score, and an English choreographer with a flair for inventing steps. That sounds exactly like Frederick Ashton’s famous version, but in fact it’s a very different production, by Michael Corder.
Where Ashton made Cinderella the emotional heart of a human story, here she is more a cipher in a symbolic fable. In the ballroom scene, for example, the Prince doesn’t appear till halfway through, Cinderella arrives even later, and you scarcely sense any romance between them – at least, not on a human scale. Rather, they embody an ideal: she as a transcendent vision of beauty, he as the devoted admirer. It’s one of the central tropes of classical ballet, but instead of channelling it all through the lead pair, it is writ large through the piece. The entire second act is patterned on couples forming and reforming; at midnight, Cinderella flees down corridors made of couples.
With such symbolism, it doesn’t really matter that Cinderella and the Prince appear bloodless as characters; it matters that they dance well. On opening night, Daria Klimentová brought a delicate perfection to her role, and Vadim Muntagirov has the spring and the lean lines for the part, even if he doesn’t yet have the stage presence.
The most fleshed-out characters, on stage most often, are the Stepsisters. In contrast to Ashton’s pantomime dames, they are played as horrid, hoity-toity sisters, both comic and cruel; Sarah McIlroy, in particular, seems to relish the role. Corder himself, meanwhile, seems to relish melding gorgeous steps to the lilts, shimmers and bristles in the music. Like the figure of Cinderella herself, his choreography may not catch your heart, but you admire its beauty.