San Francisco Ballet ends Season with a flourish

Maria Kochetkova and Joseph Walsh in Wheeldon’s ‘Cinderella’ © Erik Tomasson

For the finale of a season characterized by a wealth of fabulous and imaginative productions, San Francisco Ballet really has no other option than to go out with a flourish – and Christopher Wheeldon’s magnificent production of Cinderella is just the ticket.

Wheeldon is regarded as the most successful choreographer of his generation, so it came as no surprise that, when a Broadway revival of An American in Paris was planned, Wheeldon was asked not only to do the choreography, but to direct the production as well. The huge success that it achieved in New York (and is currently enjoying in London’s West End) tells us all we need to know about the Midas touch of this extraordinarily talented artist.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s ‘Cinderella’ © Erik Tomasson

True to style, Christopher Wheeldon was never going to serve up a traditional interpretation of Cinderella, but he’s drawn on both the Perrault and Brothers Grimm versions of the fairytale as the basis for his storyline, and then added tiers of his own ingenuity, to deliver a simply magical result. He’s created a ‘living’ tree as the focus for Cinderella following the death of her mother, replaced the Fairy Godmother with four ‘Fates’ to guide and protect her – and the brilliance behind the creation of her coach is pure genius.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s ‘Cinderella’ © Erik Tomasson

Wheeldon’s Cinderella, a co-production between the Dutch National Ballet and San Francisco Ballet, was created on both companies simultaneously in 2012. It’s been described by The Washington Post as “an utterly exquisite production”, and so it is – the result of a collaboration between some wonderfully creative artists, which Wheeldon has used to spectacular effect. The stunning sets and exquisite costumes are by Julian Crouch (the Metropolitan Opera and Broadway) special effects by Obie Award winner and MacArthur Foundation Fellow, Basil Twist (the tree and that coach!), with lighting by Natasha Katz, and projection design by Daniel Brodie.

Maria Kochetkova in Wheeldon’s ‘Cinderella’ © Erik Tomasson

Wheeldon has also retained Prokofiev’s absolutely gorgeous score which, although not as well known as that for his Romeo and Juliet, is every bit as lovely, filled with sumptuous melodies and the full range of variations in true classical ballet tradition. Prokofiev started writing the score in 1940 – a work initially intended for the then Kirov Ballet (now the Mariinsky), but due to the intervention of World War II, he moved it aside and didn’t return to it for two years. When it was finally completed, operational problems caused by the War prevented the Kirov from mounting the production, and it was premiered by the Bolshoi Ballet instead, in November 1945. The ballet was a tremendous success, and the score was one of the Prokofiev works named when he was awarded a Stalin State Prize shortly afterwards.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s ‘Cinderella’ © Erik Tomasson

San Francisco Ballet’s presentation of Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella is enchanting, touching, romantic and humorous, brilliantly conceived and a true spectacle. The San Francisco Ballet Orchestra is conducted by Martin West, and the production opens at the War Memorial Opera House this evening, running until May 7. For further information and tickets visit

San Francisco Ballet program notes – by Cheryl A Ossola

San Francisco Symphony program notes – James M Keller

Christopher Wheeldon

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