David Koch Theater, New York, NY; October 27(m), 2013
Let me begin by saying that “Cinderella” has been quite far down on my list of favorite ballets. I did enjoy Frederick Ashton’s “Cinderella” when the Royal Ballet performed it in New York in 2004, but other versions of this ballet I found to be only mediocre. I am very happy to say, however, that I absolutely loved Christopher Wheeldon’s magical “Cinderella” when I saw it performed at the David Koch Theatre on October 27th, 2013.
The story of this “Cinderella”, with a libretto by Craig Lucas, is a bit different from other productions. It begins with the death of Cinderella’s mother. A beautiful tree grows from the desolate young girl’s tears. The Four Fates, with gold faces, look after Cinderella now that her mother is gone. Soon her father marries the self-absorbed Hortensia, who has two selfish daughters named Edwina and Clementine. The new bridegroom appears to have no backbone and he allows his new wife and stepdaughters to turn Cinderella into an unpaid servant.
Meanwhile, at the palace, King Albert tells his son, Prince Guillaume, that a ball will be held where the Prince will meet his future bride. The King insists that his son deliver the invitations in person, but Guillaume carries out this errand dressed like a beggar. His best friend, Benjamin, accompanies him, pretending to be the Prince. When they reach Cinderella’s house, she is the only one who is kind to the “beggar”. Hortensia and the two stepsisters spend their time flattering the fake Prince (Benjamin).
Cinderella is invited to the Prince’s ball but her Stepmother throws her invitation into the fireplace. The Four Fates retrieve the invitation and lead her to her mother’s grave. The magical tree, which grew from Cinderella’s tears, is home to a wealth of spirits who help Cinderella get ready for the ball. There is no Fairy Godmother to be found, but the spirits of the seasons teach the young girl how to dance. Other spirits provide Cinderella with a gorgeous gold dress and mask. A beautiful coach also pops up from the tree and the Four Fates become the horses needed to take Cinderella to the ball.
The rest of the ballet is closer to the traditional Cinderella story. In Act II Cinderella meets her Prince at the ball and falls in love with him. After her Stepmother tears off her mask, Cinderella runs from the ballroom, leaving a gold slipper behind. The less evil of the two Stepsisters, Clementine, meets the Prince’s best friend Benjamin. They too fall in love.
Act III begins with the Prince and Benjamin trying the gold slipper on every female they can find. When they arrive at Cinderella’s house, her father finally shows some strength and insists that Cinderella try on the slipper. Before she can do so, Hortensia throws the gold slipper into the fireplace. Cinderella, however, comes forward with the other gold slipper. It all ends happily ever after. Cinderella marries her Prince and Clementine ends up with Benjamin.
This captivating ballet is a collaborative effort. Deserving a great deal of the credit are scenic and costume designer Julian Crouch, lighting designer Natasha Katz, production designer Daniel Brodie and especially tree and carriage sequence designer/director Basil Twist. There are so many magical moments in this production. Portraits come to life and ballroom chandeliers fill the sky near Cinderella’s special tree. After the losers in the golden slipper try on event leave, the chairs they were sitting on fly into the air and begin dancing. Most spectacular is the creation of Cinderella’s coach. It all seems to happen in an instant as enchanting fairytale proceedings often do. Company members become the wheels of the carriages, the Four Fates turn into the horses and Cinderella’s long billowing train is the roof of the coach. What a stunning and unforgettable way to end Act I.
San Francisco Ballet’s ‘Cinderella’ is far more than technical marvels. The music and choreography are such a perfect blend that one can almost believe that Prokofiev wrote his score with Wheeldon’s steps in mind. The whirling waltzing of the corps dressed in jewel toned finery in a ballroom rich with chandeliers makes me feel like I am dancing with them. Wheeldon’s innovative and inventive lifts for the Prince and Cinderella in Act II match their soaring hearts as they fall deeper and deeper in love.
The dancers are all marvelous, but some of course stand out. As Cinderella Maria Kochetkova has the loveliest light leap and delicately filigreed footwork. Her acting is just as wonderful as her dancing. Kochetkova displays varied emotions from the deepest despair to the pinnacle of love and happiness.
As Prince Guillaume, Joan Boada has an engaging personality which fits the role perfectly. He is an extremely attentive partner whose solo dancing is full of bounding leaps with the plushest of landings. As good as Boada is, he is almost upstaged by Taras Domitro in the showier role of Benjamin. Domitro’s multiple air turns are absolutely outstanding.
Sarah Van Patten’s Edwina, the Stepsister who stays nasty throughout the ballet, shows that she is a gifted comedienne with spot on comic timing. Frances Chung is a sweet and gawky Clementine, the Stepsister who wears glasses but still ends up with a mate.
I hope the San Francisco Ballet comes back to New York soon and brings their marvelous ‘Cinderella’ with them.