Choreography Christopher Wheeldon, music Sergei Prokofiev
Dutch National Ballet
Sadler's Wells at London Coliseum
A Cinderella rewrite from Christopher Wheeldon and librettist Craig Lucas: two happy couples not one, the prince has a name and a best friend, Cinderella no fairy godmother, no pumpkin, no mice, only four ‘Ninja’ male Fates and many fairy tale grotesque creatures from under the spreading oak tree sprouting over her mother’s grave to guide and watch over her.
Musical theatre and Disney film meet classical ballet, and design is everything. But what design—Julian Crouch no slouch in that department with Shockheaded Peter and Jerry Springer: The Opera to his name, to mention just a couple. His set, costumes and masks are fabulous in every sense.
Basil Twist, credited with direction and design of the tree and carriage scenes, is no slouch either, his carriage coup de théâtre a swift and imaginative conjuring of solidity out of thin air.
Add Natasha Katz’s lighting design, Daniel Brodie’s video projection and Prokofiev’s stupendous filmic score and we are halfway to a cinematic experience. Special effects abound, and lots of glittering chandeliers.
Birds fly in a blue sky, which darkens as Cinderella’s mother succumbs to consumption and the carefree girl on a swing now stands under an umbrella in the rain at the funeral. Cliché upon cliché, but the audience laps it up.
Two boys play in a grand palace and tease their bosomy dance teacher Madame Mansard (see the joke in the name—lovely turn from Jeanette Vondersaar). Scenes swiftly follow scenes in jump cuts as the backstory builds.
The children grow apace with the tree. Prince Guillaume (William—another little joke) is bored with royal protocol, and his friend Benjamin suggests a swop of identities. They pay a visit to Cinderella, who in the meantime has acquired a mean stepmother and two stepsisters—the constant in all the versions.
Cinderella is kind to the shabby prince, whereas the stepmother throws him out— Kleider machen Leute—clothes maketh the man, eh? The four Fate boys in blue whisk Cinderella off to the tree where she dances with its spirits of Lightness, Generosity, Mystery, and Fluidity.
The highlight of the prince’s ball is not the richly costumed princesses from Russia, Spain and Bali and their escorts but Larissa Lezhnina’s pinpoint timing and dancing as tipsy Stepmother Hortensia takes to the expensive bubbly. Vaganova training will out.
And guess what—it’s not true that boys don’t make passes at girls in glasses. Stepsister Clementine in specs gets Benjamin, whilst naughty sister Edwina makes do with a one-night stand.
Chairs that figure in the comical musical line-up for trying on the lost slipper drift up to form an arch over the true lovers. And Hortensia vomits into the saucepan. Too much. Wheeldon’s popular Alice's Adventures in Wonderland keeps springing to mind.
The grand pas classique of Russian Imperial ballet is alluded to if not quite realised in the final white scene as all gather under the tree to celebrate the union.
I’ve never seen Matthew Golding as relaxed as in this role of Prince Guillaume, but then he is dancing with his real life partner, the wondrous Anna Tsygankova as Cinderella, but neither seems much stretched by the choreography.
Remi Wörtmeyer’s Benjamin is pure delight, light and slight, and with great ballon, whilst Nadia Yanowsky is lovely as the kinder sister. The cast is huge, and in many instances purely decorative, yet the ball scenes somehow don’t fill the music.
Christopher Wheeldon has come a long way from asking his Balletboyz friends in 2007 to help him out at the Bolshoi (captured on film) to winning four Tony awards this year for his An American in Paris on Broadway.
Interestingly, he is turning more and more to full-scale narrative ballets: Alice in Wonderland for the Royal Ballet in 2011, this Cinderella co-production with San Francisco Ballet and Dutch National Ballet the following year, Winter’s Tale (another dominant tree) in 2014 for the Royal Ballet.
What they have in common is magical design, a visual feast, and a vaudevillian sense of humour: Wheeldon seems to be making the transition to dance theatre, and maybe film one day, he says.
Nothing wrong with seeking a wider audience or spreading his wings, but where are the steps, as the late Kathrine Sorley Walker often said…
Stunning to look at, beautiful dancers, good acting, a fresh interpretation taken from the Brothers Grimm not Charles Perrault, but Cinderella’s perfunctory, anodyne choreography does not set the pulse racing, though the press night audience liked it well enough. It won the Prix Benois de la Danse in 2013.
Reviewer: Vera Liber