Chandeliers descended through quivering tree branches. Gilt chairs dangled above the stage. Tree gnomes bobbed and weaved through tutus and tights. A dining room table spun around in a circle.
The magic of Cinderella captivated the Koch Theater at Lincoln Center today; enacted by the flawless San Francisco Ballet dancers in the delightful mind of Christopher Wheeldon. Ostentatious and elegant, Wheeldon released ambiguities yet built in rich sub-plots and characters such as the Prince’s friend, more human (not necessarily humane) step sisters, a living yet helpless father, and a lush forest.
Cinderella (sumptuously danced by Maria Kotchetova) wept at her mother’s gravesite, from which a gnarly tree grew. She and her father (Ruben Martin Cintas) joined a family trio led by the conniving Marie-Claire D’Lyse and her daughters, the deathly comedic Sarah Van Patten and a game-for-anything Frances Chung. Wheeldon presented Cinderella’s father as loving but weak-willed; he only stepped in on her behalf when she became desperate by the events of a marriage of convenience and entertainment.
Wheeldon gave Cinderella allies in the Fates, a quartet of dancers almost like a benevolent Greek chorus. They hovered in her presence continually; sometimes aided her, sometimes directed her. Gold masks or paint with head coverings, obscured individual personalities so that they appeared as a single unit devoted to Cinderella.
A royal-weary Prince Guillaume assumed the task of finding a wife gamely and shrewdly. Switching places with his friend Benjamin (Taras Domitro may have upstaged Joan Boada) and dressing as a traveler allowed Guillaume to socialize more authentically with potential mates and Benjamin to have some fun in the process. Cinderella’s stepmother threw the ball invitation into the fire, ruining Cinderella’s opportunity to attend.
Cinderella’s Fates drew her out into the starry night. A host of seasonal Spirits affirmed her; dancing with and around her they swept Cinderella into a frenzied euphoria. This majestic display took place under the tree bearing her Mother’s spirit, a few tree gnomes and woodland critters emerged. Interestingly, Wheeldon gave each season a quality:
With master puppeteer Basil Twist‘s assistance, Wheeldon constructed Cinderella’s carriage out of her Fates and other dancers twirling leaf-rimmed wheels to stunning breathtaking effect. My fellow audience members and I all gasped at the sight of Cinderella brimming with hope atop this assemblage, golden cape billowing behind her – see the stock publicity photo:
Wheeldon built in plenty of comedy, bawdiness and sarcasm. The dancers became recognizable characters in a story lavishly depicted. Nuance and subtlety hovered in Wheeldon’s slight abstraction of the story – everyone knows the what will happen – the “how” it happened is what made this story come alive. The San Francisco Ballet dancers heroically, tenderly rose to the challenge for an ethereal experience that will stay with me. Notable in Wheeldon’s lyrical choreography, he found a way to unite the classical ballet vocabulary with weight and gravity. I have not seen that many story ballet’s with pointe shoe wearing dancers down on the floor (besides pleading on their knees) in intricate patterns, rolls, and tumbles.
This incredible experience happened for me, because I won Pointe Magazine‘s ticket giveaway earlier in the week! A special experience in totality, especially with incredible center orchestra seats. Also, former students of mine performed – a proud ballet mama moment for me. A beautiful day at the ballet.