It’s that time of the year again! What time is that? It’s Ballet Season of course!
Even though the 2020 season opened much like last year with a fairytale ballet, it was certainly not a romantic-era ballet or even an update of a romantic ballet. This production of Cinderella was created by Christopher Wheeldon in 2012 as a joint commission of the Dutch National Ballet and San Francisco Ballet. Its War Memorial premiere was in 2013.
The libretto was written by Craig Lucas, the playwright who you may be familiar with from Prelude to a Kiss (there was a 1992 film adaptation with Alec Baldwin and Meg Ryan). He brings that same soupçon of strangeness to this work. There is no fairy godmother or mice. All of the magic in this version of the story comes from a tree that grows out of Cinderella’s mother’s grave. Of course, you can’t leave Cinderella sidekick-less but instead of mice and birds, she has four fates who provide the magical catalyst (and help her with the chores). This Cinderella also has a respectable amount of gumption for a story where the happy ending entails getting married (spoilers!).
Wheeldon choose to work with Prokofiev’s 1940 score. For me, the music didn’t do much, it is certainly isn’t on par with his Romeo and Juliet. But I didn’t find choreography particularly impactful either. I don’t know if one fell flat and impacted my impression of the other or if both were just meh.
As far as the choreography goes, there was a lot of dancing. Really athletic dancing. Maybe too much, as in too many steps. The principals were on stage for long stretches and the corps de ballet really moved. There wasn’t a lot of standing around or running off and on stage. I don’t tend to miss the conventions of romantic ballet, but I do feel that this work would benefit from some of the pauses, stillness, and space that are traditional in the romantic ballets in order to give the brilliant and athletic dancing space to shine.
The night my mom, sister, and I were there, Cinderella was danced by one of our new favorite dancers, Sasha de Sola. She brought a great combination of sassiness and compassion to the role. Luke Ingham was the Prince. But the stepsister Clementine, who was danced by Ellen Rose Hummel, was the character who really stole the show. Clementine is the sweet stepsister, who wears glasses and takes the brunt of her mother’s and sister’s meanness when Cinderella isn’t readily available. She is funny and kind-hearted, and she gets the guy too, winning the heart of the Prince’s sidekick.
The novel libretto allows for creative applications of production elements. The scene where Cinderella is transformed to go to the ball is wonderfully weird and full of inventive staging and effects. For me, this scene is the highlight of the show.
There is so much to like about this production, but like I said before, there was just something about it that felt overwrought. The last time it was presented was 2017 and I remember enjoying the innovative elements, but I don’t know that it made my heart leap that time either.