Christopher Wheeldon’s new “Cinderella” is simply spectacular. With adept storytelling and beautiful visuals, this new spin on an old tale ventures straight into the modernly divine.
A co-production with Dutch National Ballet, this “Cinderella” made its US debut at San Francisco Ballet last Friday to high expectations, hard-to-contain excitement, and a sold-out crowd. As the first tones of Sergei Prokofiev’s score rang haunting and true from the orchestra pit, Wheeldon’s tale wove its magic. And magical it really is.
This “Cinderella” doesn’t attribute Cinderella’s ball-going to a Fairy Godmother or Lilac Fairy. Instead, Wheeldon tells a story (with libretto by Craig Lucas) about fate. With the right support, fate helps our heroine find herself and love. Throughout this version, support returns time and time again in the form of the Four Fates.
These four semi-creepy dudes (Sorry, but they are. And I doubt that fate would mind the characterization) serve as silent guardians to Cinderella, guiding her on her own journey through the challenges that her evil stepmother and stepsisters toss at her. They help out with the housework, too, reinforcing that a home needs to have some essence of care, dedication, and purpose.
Other representations of reinforcement include Cinderella’s house, where she often steps onto the table or where the line of the house is marked by stairs. And the best, most endearing may be when the spirits and forest folk ready her for the ball, creating a spinning carriage full of emotional gusto, enough to take your breath away.
Wheeldon also creates lovely, quiet moments of contemplation where he delves into delicious movement that springs forth from the heart. Most poignant may be the pas de deux for the Prince and Cinderella at the ball. All of the guests are led outside for a raucous fireworks display, and the lovestruck couple embrace in an empty room. Moving about freely with abandon, this isn’t a dance for show or bravado. It’s a dance of the heart.
And that may be the greatest gift that Wheeldon can give to story ballets. His genius with abstract, story-less ballets in the past has been his ability to find connections and create new ways to see dance. And so surprisingly, this same gift transcends “Cinderella” as he brings to light the flow and earnestness of these relationships through a beautiful ballet that moves you to pieces. Better yet, the choreography itself is interesting, infusing infectious gestures with sweeping legs and curtsy-like steps.
Visually, this production tantalizes the senses. With a world-class team (including Jacquelin Barrett, assistant to the choreographer; Craig Lucas, libretto, mentioned above; Julian Crouch, scenic and costume design; Natasha Katz, lighting design; Basil Twist, tree and carriage sequence; Daniel Brodie, projection design, Frank McCullagh, scenic associate, and Bruce Sanson, guest repetiteur; Martin West, conductor), no rock is left unturned. Imposing trees, puppet people, modernly quaint scenery, feathered costumes, swelling crescendos: it all blends together in ravishing harmony.
The characters themselves show nuance and depth, and opening night’s cast went full out. The evening featured Maria Kochetkova as Cinderella. Kochetkova can do no wrong, and the way she fully releases into her character is such a joy to watch. Joan Boada as her Prince gave a youthful, carefree performance, as did Taras Domitro as the Prince’s bosom buddy Benjamin. Sarah Van Patten played the bitchy stepsister with supreme evildom, while Frances Chung’s glasses-wearing Clementine nearly stole the show.
This “Cinderella” is grand and graceful, honest and dazzling, and quite utterly awesome. If you aren’t able to see the production this year (tickets are officially sold out except for some “>standing room tickets and what’s available from ticket resellers), plan to catch it next year when it returns for encore performances.