Created in 2012 for Dutch National Ballet, Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella is stirred but not shaken from its traditional roots.
The shift from proscenium arch to the Royal Albert Hall allows Wheeldon to refresh the staging and rethink the piece on a grand scale. Although there is no pumpkin carriage and no fairy godmother, it remains child-friendly in spite of some extra spice from Tamara Rojo’s Cruella de Vil-like stepmother and Emma Hawes’ sexually voracious stepsister Edwina – who emerges from her bedroom with four dishevelled courtiers the morning after the ball.
The four Fates, who accompany Alina Cojocaru’s lighter-than-air Cinderella throughout – wafting above the heads of the ensemble and helping her on and off the kitchen table, are a puzzling addition, but beautifully danced.
There is no shortage of spectacle as Wheeldon floods the space with blue-costumed courtiers waltzing through the ball scene, while Daniel Brodie’s shapeshifting projections illuminate the floor and a huge screen at the rear.
The narrative line is a model of clarity and Wheeldon’s post-Ashtonian footwork is at its filigree best in the big ensembles and solos.
The weakest aspect here is the romantic duets between Cojocaru and Isaac Hernandez’s Prince Guillaume. The unforgiving and exposing space may be to blame, but few of their love duets rise to Prokofiev’s sensational music. Wheeldon’s fussy, complex lifts keep the couple grounded when they should soar with the euphoria of love.
However, there is much to admire: a trio of predatory princesses, Basil Twist’s puppet carriage, which ends Act I with a spectacular flourish, and the surreal four seasons sequence, which includes dancing horse chestnuts, long-beaked birds and huge-headed tree gnomes.
Best of all, Cojocaru’s spirited and kind-hearted Cinderella flies through the piece like a nymph, her faultless technique matched by an expressiveness that speaks louder than words.