Sir Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella entered the repertoire of the National Ballet of Japan in 1999, and has been an audience’s favourite ever since, being performed frequently with tickets selling very well each time. Originally choreographed for the Sadler’s Wells Ballet in 1948, it has been an important part of The Royal Ballet’s legacy, and was one of Artistic Director Miyako Yoshida’s signature roles during her time there.

Ayako Ono (Cinderella) and Yudai Fukuoka (Prince)
© Hidemi Seto

A fairy tale of a kind-hearted girl having her dreams come true with magic, sprinkled with cheerful comedy, and danced by beautiful but complicated classical choreography. Many loveable and memorable scenes are in this ballet: Cinderella’s solo with a broom, the sparkling stars ensemble waltz and the seasons fairies’ variations, Cinderella’s transformation and the pumpkin carriage, her debut in the ball and the Stepsisters’ comical acting.

The last performance here was in 2019, and this time we could see much improvement in the dancing, thanks to Yoshida’s experience as Cinderella as well as coaching on zoom by Wendy Ellis Somes, who had danced the title role while Ashton was still there.

Cinderella at New National Theatre, Tokyo
© Hidemi Seto

The title role on the opening day was danced by Ayako Ono. A petite dancer with excellent musicality and accurate technique, her lines were polished even more and her acting looked natural, portraying a girl with a heart of gold and a strong will to change her destiny. Ashton throws in very difficult choreography in Cinderella’s solos, complicated footwork, changes of direction, bent torsos while keeping the upper body elegant and lyrical, and Ono executed them with clarity and poise. One of the most impressive moments was her solo with the broom; she took care of it as though it as her partner and treated it with love, and we could see her emotion change, from sadness to gaining courage and hope, finally bursting into jumps. Her Prince was dashingly danced by Yudai Fukuoka, princely with secure partnering skills and soaring leaps, and together they created a beautiful love story with their mutual affection.

Yudai Fukuoka (Prince) and Ayako Ono (Cinderella)
© Hidemi Seto

Yuri Kimura danced the Fairy Godmother, carrying her long limbs in a slow adagio style with confidence, radiantly illuminating the stage. The four seasons’ fairies each gave their very best in the difficult solos, the bubbly and crisp Spring Fairy Haruka Soutome was a standout but Moeko Iino in Summer, Risako Ikeda in Autumn and Asako Terada in Winter were all fabulous in their musicality and attack.

But it was Kosuke Okumura as the elder Stepsister who stole the show. His gorgeous yet bossy portrayal of this character was detailed and nuanced that it was difficult to take one’s eyes off him. His dancing in high heels with his younger sister (played charmingly by Yu Onodera) was both skilled and funny, with the glamour of a Hollywood actress. Surprisingly Okumura has performed the role of the prince on another performance as he is usually an ideal danseur noble. Yoshito Kinoshita’s jester displayed his firework technique with light leaps and fast turns as well as being a charming entertainer at the ball.

Kosuke Okumura and Yu Onodera (Stepsisters)
© Hidemi Seto

Equally important in this ballet are the ensemble, especially the 12 Star Waltz dancers. Their sharp turns and fast footwork, bending of their upper bodies and changing of directions were well controlled and in rhyme, giving a shimmering effect. The Mazurkas in the ballroom were elegantly danced; although the choreography is complicated, they seemed to be well coached to catch the spirit of Ashton.

The classy and magical production sets and costumes were designed for The Royal Ballet in 1987 by David Walker. The National Ballet of Japan acquired them when they brought Cinderella into their repertoire, and the production still has its spellbinding beauty after 35 years. The starry skies in the final tableaux celebrate the happy-ever-after couple with pure bliss, and everyone is left with a warm heart. The Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra played the Prokofiev score marvellously under the baton of Martin Yates.