Top critical review
15 people found this helpful
on 20 August 2013
This is a production with a capital P. Stagecraft is all but shunned. Sensibly, ballet companies cut costs by sharing or co-producing expensive full-length ballets like this, and this production was later given by San Francisco Ballet. Nowadays you have a tough job finding a Cinderella not choreographed to Sergei Prokofiev's 1945 ballet music of the same name. Wheeldon's is no exception. The libretto here, by Craig Lucas, making use of the original Grimm tale, is crammed with details and leaves no note uninterpreted. There is a tree of life, and the prince (here named Guillaume) dresses as a vagrant to get to know girls. In an extended sort of prologue, the main protagonists are brought to the stage as children first. And here things start to feel uncomfortable. To put it simply, Prokofiev's ouverture goes `from sad to hopeful' and in that `hopeful' Cinderella's mother dies, ignoring the mood of the music. After that, two naughty kids are seen running around in a palace. They are Guillaume and a friend, Benjamin, chased by a nanny before being told off by the king. Only after this are we introduced to the kitchen of Cinderella and her father, stepmother, stepsisters Edwina and Clementine and ... The Mummenschanz - for Cinderella is permanently accompanied by masked dancers in black, as if the Swiss mimes were written into the show as guest artists. To some purpose unknown to me they lift her, help her wriggle, contort - like MacMillan's Manon and partners on steroids. Cinderella meets her Guillaume (as clochard) and, without the benefit of a Fairy Godmother, makes it to the ball. The seasons are an odd bunch, but the couch is a feat of imaginative strength. At the ball, Guillaume enters drunk. Foreign guests are given the idiot treatment and as a coloured guy, I feel much more offended seeing this than by the Bolshoi smearing children's faces black for a 19th century ballet - heavily commented upon recently. While I like the way the stepsisters are drawn up -naturalistic and nuanced, rather than physically horrid creatures- at the ball it goes awry, and like Guillaume and their mother (also drunk), they resort to cheap humor (intentional kicks no one would resort to at a ball). Cinderella's ball entrance is handled in a traditional way. As in Ashton's version, the corps de ballet is involved in her hurried exit. Back in the kitchen, the action usually lingers, no exception here. The Mummenschanz aid Cinderella even as she puts on the slipper, but fail to be part of the big celebration under the tree of life, where all ends in happiness.
The production is designed by Julian Crouch. I think of his work as uneven: The Mummenschanz appear to have brought their own costumes, while The Lloyd Webber-like ball scene, exploding in purple, navy, burgundy and dark green is possibly designed to have Cinderella stand out in yellow. Awkward, for prior to the yellow you have to process a lot of information (many characters interacting), and said dark costumes combined with a darkly lit floor (alternating red with purple) are hard on the eyes. Since this is about a ballet I can't escape commenting on steps. Christopher Wheeldon, successfully choreographing his way through the world, is credited as being influenced by Balanchine, but after having seen quite a few of his works I don't agree. His ballets expose him as an inheritor of Ashton and MacMillan (both British). Small example: In 'DGV: danse à grande vitesse' (New York City Ballet), to me Wheeldon's best ballet, the ladies are sirens capably handled by strong men - but for no reason interrupting their mellifluous movements with a sharply pointed fourth position. Admittedly, Prokofiev's wry lyricism is not easy, but what stands out here is the sad fact that Cinderella's music seems to elude Wheeldon completely. Cinderella's vocabulary consists of a never-ending wriggling from one side to another, her fashionable seaweedy port de bras becoming tedious. Crescendi in the big pas de deux are ignored, or merely used for small or transitional steps. The Seasons' variations are clumsy. The dances for the court are Wheeldon's best (ironically at odds with their costumes): The corps de ballet dances sweeping numbers and the shoepassing line is effective. For the brave dancers almost nothing but praise. Anna Tsygankova, a little cold, makes up for that with perfect technique and dynamics. Her partner, Matthew Golding, probably makes the best turns in the world, so he could do with ditching his sour expression. With her role as Stepmother former Kirov dancer Larissa Lezhnina had to change from ingenue to elderly lady. A not too smooth transition, for a Western company can hardly ever provide one with the repertory to facilitate it. Nadia Yanowsky and especially Megan Zimny-Gray are doing a fine job on the sisters. Smaller roles are cast well, and the corps de ballet is very good, revealing Het Nationale Ballet in excellent shape. So, if you are a none too discerning ballet fan, sheer good dancing is your thing or want to treat your kid to a glimpse into the ballet world present tense, this is your blu-ray. If you look for good choreography and production -and still want Wheeldon- I suggest you go for The Royal Ballet's 'Alice in Wonderland:' Wheeldon reacted infinitely better to Lewis Carroll's slightly unsettling classic.