Ismene Brown’s Review of Sergei in Cinderella – Sergei Polunin
Ismene Brown’s Review of Sergei in Cinderella

Ismene Brown’s Review of Sergei in Cinderella

Ismene Brown reviews Sergei Polunin and Yuhui Choe:



April 18, 2010

When a 20-year-old bursts onto the stage like a prince inheriting his kingdom, something special has happened. In just one, unfair, single appearance in a junior-cast matinee of Cinderella yesterday, Sergei Polunin made the Covent Garden audience see stars. It was perhaps a little hard on his Cinderella, Yuhui Choe, also debuting in her lead role, that she, an exquisite dancer as she is, was left in the tail of this blazing comet.

Polunin has been eyecatching from the moment he joined from the Royal Ballet School two years ago, mature far beyond his years, with the profile of a leader of men, and the frown of a seriously thoughtful artist. I missed his debut as Prince Florimund in The Sleeping Beauty this season (pictured by Johan Persson), but this Ashton prince in Cinderella is a true test of talent. In essentially just three sequences – leading his court ball, meeting and duetting with Cinderella, and finally matching her – a chap must leave an indelible mark. And Polunin leaves images that burn in the memory – the way he exploded onto the stage in Act 2 like a star who had delayed his audience long enough, the reverent delicacy with which he treated Choe, the amused politeness with which he fended off the ugly stepsisters, the height of his leaps, and maybe most of all, the turn of his head and that fierce profile – this all speaks of a major young male star in British ballet, and one whom I’d urge you all to book up in anything.

This season he has showed a prodigiously commanding range – a dark dramatic presence in The Judas Tree, a dangerously elegant Benvolio, a fastidiously aristocratic Florestan among others, not one dud among them. The Ukraine-Royal Ballet connection has produced some wonderful alchemy recently, with Kiev-trained Alina Cojocaru and Ivan Putrov preceding Polunin, and this boy looks set for the highest achievements.


Choe certainly has the artistry to do the same, a butterfly lightness and extraordinary musicality that flows through her body, but she must learn to open her face more to the audience and show them Cinderella, dance louder than mezzo-piano con delicatezza, and take on that mystical extra glow of the ballerina. Yesterday she was fighting to be seen against the now brazen panto style of the two stepsisters (pictured by Bill Cooper), Alastair Marriott doing a fortissimo impression of Frances de la Tour, and Jonathan Howells starting sweetly as the “shy” sister but soon joining in the broad music-hall tone. Competing with them for come-to-the-Cabaret honours was the most 21st-century Jester I’ve seen yet, the lithe Fernando Montaño, made up to the nines and leering while he did his split jumps – not remotely fitting this cheap-looking Hallmark-cards production, but certainly provoking questions about the significance of Jesters in solitary Princes’ courts.

Francesca Filpi was a grave and lovely Fairy Godmother, making a tasteful gem of her one solo; of the seasons Elizabeth Harrod was a quick, effervescent Spring; Paul Kay and Gary Avis gave (as ever) excellent value as the Little and Large courtiers, José Martin’s Dancing Master was attractive, and the four Prince’s Friends were sharp as knives in their quartet. But it’s Polunin on whom the golden promises must shower; a deeply exciting prospect.

  • Cinderella runs at the Royal Opera House until 5 June
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