Dutch National Ballet: Cinderella
July 8 and 11, 2015
The Dutch National Ballet made a welcome return to London bringing Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella and filling the Coliseum with enthusiastic audiences. The draw of a well-known choreographic name – Wheeldon is probably the hottest property around at the moment – and a three act narrative ballet added to the appeal.
A co-production between Dutch National and San Francisco Ballet, Cinderella, is lavish; a flurry of colourful costumes, wigs and set from Julian Crouch as well as moments of magic in Basil Twist’s special effects. He has created a tree that grows and blossoms before our eyes and a coach that is a theatrical masterpiece: the horses raring to go, the wheels whirling and Cinderella held aloft under a canopy of gauze make an-all-too brief iconic moment to close Act One.
Wheeldon follows, for the most part, the Prokofiev score but develops the characters more fully, naming them and stamping their individuality. Cinderella is a strong-willed girl of disarming directness, revealed in occasional naive movements sneaking in between the sophisticated ballet steps. The boyish Prince Guillaume retains his youthful ardour while delivering the sort of classical variations we expect from a Prince. Each has a childhood. Cinderella witnesses her mother’s death and cries at her grave while the boys play havoc in the palace and tease their dance teacher mercilessly (a deliciously bawdy scene with Jeanette Vondersaar). The principal pair first meet in the family kitchen where the Prince, disguised as a beggar, is shown kindness by Cinderella while step-mother Hortensia and the sisters fawn over friend Benjamin dressed as the Prince.
Anna Tsygankova was a magical Cinderella, her inherent musicality making even the most fiercely technical choreography flow like silk. She plays the character to the full, finding touches of humour in Cinder’s difficult life and launching into her new-found love with total commitment. She was partnered by Matthew Golding, now with the Royal Ballet but guesting for a few performances. He made a spirited Prince and enjoyed a friendly bonding with Remi Wörtmeyer, a fleet-footed Australian, as Benjamin.
Wheeldon introduces a secondary love interest between the better natured sister, Clementine, and Benjamin bringing a human element to two strong dance roles. Wörtmeyer’s exuberance was perfectly pitched and chimed with Nadia Yanowsky’s sweet and silly Clementine in a touching display of young love. It contrasted well with the deeper passions of Cinderella and her Prince in their grand pas full of sweeping lifts and intimate moments.
The alternate cast of Maia Makhateli and Artur Shesterikov gave a performance suffused with romance and effortless dance. Makhateli is a versatile dancer with a dazzling technical ability who has worked her way to principal rank. She is well matched with Shesterikov an elegant dancer who can equal her in technique and charm – in fact, so well matched they got married in the week after the performance. Sasha Mukhamedov as Hortensia was a revelation. Her powerful presence simultaneously malicious and irresistible gave the family scenes a new energy. It brought out the fight in Makhateli’s Cinderella who, without losing her essential kindness, became a feisty spirit determined to retain her father’s affections. Sébastian Galtier as the father created a complex character in this small role. The comedy between intoxicated Hortensia, long suffering dad and Erica Horwood’s very pretty, very bitchy wicked sister, Edwina generated riotous interludes between the ballroom romance.
The four seasons now become Spirits of Lightness, Generosity, Mystery and Fluidity. The characters are less well defined than seasons but offer a slew of good dance roles for leads and coryphèes. Young Gyu Choi, a dancer of natural buoyancy, was outstanding as Generosity. Cinderella is guided and guarded on her journey by four Fates, male roles with substantial dance and partnering opportunities. There are lovely touches as two men rush on to lift Cinderella at the end of her act two variation and swoop her down to her waiting Prince. And they
do the housework – definitely what every woman needs in her life!
At the Coliseum, the production, made for a slightly larger stage, at times seemed overfilled and too busy, but for family entertainment this was probably a plus and the puppets and other weird creatures were definitely popular with the matinee audience. Cinderella’s departure for the ball is so spectacular I wished it could have been matched by her entrance. Wheeldon uses the moments before Cinderella appears in the ballroom for Benjamin and Clementine to reveal their love and this distracts from a very special musical moment. Cinderella’s entrance then seems hurried and less of a climax masked by too many costume and too many bodies. However this is a small detail in what is proving a very successful production on both sides of the Atlantic.