San Francisco Ballet’s New York season continues on October 23 with a premiere performance for the city – Christopher Wheeldon’s highly creative production of Cinderella which played to sold-out houses when it opened in San Francisco earlier this year.
A co-production with Dutch National Ballet, this presentation of Cinderella – set to Prokofiev’s glorious score – takes its inspiration from the works of the Brothers Grimm as well as from the Charles Perrault adaptation of the folk tale. Add to this the Wheeldon touch, a highly imaginative creative team, and you have a unique and enchanting production which had its world premiere in Amsterdam on December 13, 2012.
Cinderella is Christopher Wheeldon’s eighth commission for San Francisco Ballet, but his first full-length work for the Company. One of today’s most sought-after choreographers, he started his dancing career with The Royal Ballet where his talent for choreography was recognized by Sir Kenneth MacMillan, who advised him to “take every opportunity you have to practice it”. Following a move to New York City Ballet, Wheeldon finally retired from dancing in 2000 to concentrate on choreography, becoming resident choreographer of the New York company from 2001 to 2008. He is now Artistic Director of his own company, and also an Artistic Associate at The Royal Ballet.
Around the time that Helgi Tomasson – SF Ballet Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer – was discussing the commissioning of Cinderella with Wheeldon, Dutch National Ballet had also approached him for a full-length work, so Wheeldon decided on a co-production – not an easy route, but as he said at the time “I’ll do some of it here and some of it there, and we’ll make it work”. This involved an exchange of principal dancers from the two companies in the months preceding the premiere, enabling him to create on both at the same time, an exercise which he describes as promoting “an exciting cultural exchange”.
Wheeldon – who regards the Grimm version of Cinderella as “more serious and a bit darker” than Perrault’s – presents a very different version than that to which audiences are accustomed. There is no fairy godmother, no pumpkin coach and no clock striking midnight, but it has a living and dancing tree which grows from the grave of Cinderella’s mother, and to which Wheeldon refers as “the deliverer of all things magic” – which he thinks is “quite beautiful” and also “more poetic” than the traditional fairy godmother. For Cinderella’s guidance and protection, Wheeldon has given her four spirits – the seasonal fairies in Prokofiev’s score – who also bestow on her gifts such as elegance and lightness of being, the steps she learns from them forming the basis of her solo at the Prince’s ball.
Although Wheeldon’s aim was to “echo some of the darkness in the music by taking some of the themes from the Brothers Grimm version”, he has retained the comedy which characterizes the traditional versions, because, he says, “there’s comedy written into the music”. He does, however, consider it a more serious Cinderella, and “a very rich theatrical experience”.
Wheeldon’s highly imaginative creative team included playwright and librettist Craig Lucas, set and costume designer Julian Crouch, award-winning puppeteer Basil Twist – responsible for creating the “living” tree – and lighting specialist Natasha Katz who worked with Wheeldon on Continuum, a previous commission for San Francisco Ballet.
Prokofiev started writing the score for Cinderella in 1940. It was initially intended for the Kirov Ballet (now the Mariinsky), but had to be set aside for a couple of years during World War II. On completion, the work was performed in November 1945 – by the Bolshoi Ballet. Maria Kochetkova, a Principal Dancer of San Francisco Ballet, says that the beauty of the music is what made her long to dance the role of Cinderella, having first watched a video of the ballet when she was a student at the Bolshoi. “It was my dream to perform it,” she says, “and not because of the pas de deux or unusual costumes or story that I wanted to act. It was because of the music.”Maria Kochetkova and Joan Boada in Wheeldon’s ‘Cinderella’.
San Francisco Ballet’s Cinderella runs at the David H Koch Theater, Lincoln Center in New York from October 23 to 27. For further information and tickets, please follow this link http://www.sfballet.org/tickets/ontour where you’ll also find some video clips of the New York season.