Cinderella
Photo: Eric Tomasson.

Cinderella

San Francisco Ballet

Helgi Tomasson, Artistic Director
Christopher Wheeldon, Choreographer
Scenic and Costume Design: Julian Crouch
War Memorial Opera House
Apr. 28-May 7, 2017, Reviewed Apr. 28, 2017
Sfballet.org

Christopher Wheeldon’s co-production with Dutch National Ballet of “Cinderella” is dance theater, conceived of in that genre’s finest tradition, but by no means limited by it. A marvelous scenic design team headed by costume and set designer Julian Crouch, yields projections by Daniel Brodie, dancing tree and carriage sequences by Basil Twist, with seamless lighting design by Natasha Katz. Wheeldon’s Cinderella character emerges from dark childhood losses to not only claim a pair of glass slippers, but stand sufficiently tall in them as to assure successors that she will never again be eponymous for complexes suggestive of co-dependency or imperial rescue heroics.

Some may suffer cognitive dissonance for having been initially introduced to the Prokofiev score under the cover of its Romeo & Juliet mask. As for the choreography, dance sequences pop up like sight bytes, reminiscent of the old TV show Laugh-In’s format. It’s more ballet theater than ballet, except for some almost mesmerizing, and other tidily comic pas de deux, but all dispatched with great verve by Frances Chung in the title role and Joseph Walsh as a bounding yet soulful Prince Guillaume.

Sasha de Sola is the imperious Stepsister Edwina; Ellen Rose Hummel, the doltish Clementine. They are supported by a fleet of principal character dancers, among who, Rubén Martín as Cinderella’s ultimately protective Father, and Katita Waldo as a louche Madame Mansard, excel. Jennifer Stahl is counter-intuitively in and out of step as the Stepmother Hortensia, whose egregious social gaffes are only exceeded by her bent for souring the milk of human kindness. Edwina and Clementine follow in her off-kilter footsteps, all three of their snouts headed for the same tainted trough. The four Fates, danced by Daniel Deivison-Oliveira, Francisco Mungamba, Mingxuan Wang and Wei Wang, more than compensate for the absence of an unctuous Fairy Godmother. Their good deeds involve more heavy and interestingly crafted lifting, but then, transformative expectations are higher and more daunting in an era when the pumpkin has gone the way of Uber and Lyft. This non-pumpkin coach’s wheel spokes are umbrellas, inventively repurposed!

A four seasons interlude, which finds no justification in a fairy tale set in the time of the pumpkin, nonetheless delivers the balletic extravagance that the audience has come to see. The eye goes to newcomer Jahna Frantziskonis, who leads a springtime green team of Isabella DeVivo, Lauren Parrott, Elizabeth Powell, and Natasha Sheehan. Lonnie Weeks lights up the summer sky in his orange group; Hansuke Yamamoto, with support from Esteban Hernandez and others, turns autumn mauve; and a frosted blue quartet, glides in with Koto Ishihara as its point woman, to bring in winter’s sleek steps punctuated by the tinkle of sleigh bells.

Inside jokes abound, but none is funnier than the divertissement spectacle, danced with utter imperviousness in Act II by Elizabeth Mateer as Russian Princess, Kimberly Marie Olivier as Spanish Princess, and Wan Ting Zhao as Balinese Princess. Instead of each having her own solo, they are thrown together into one multi-ethnic mashup. Unlike the false humility at large in antiquated versions of such ecumenical, politically correct “tolerance” sequences, here each princess elbows her way into a quest for absolute hegemony—at least over the stage, if not the post-nineteenth century border-mad world. Salon pettiness has never waxed more imperious on the same comic plane! An ethnic dance festival in miniature gone off the rails, it morphs from “hands across the water” to one NATO code short of nuclear disaster. A close second is the rounding up of all the un-usual suspects to try on the errant glass slipper, where, harboring opportunistically high or dystopically absent hopes, the musical chairs they slide along later rise up to form an arc encompassing Cinderella’s troubled home and hearth.

Taras Domitro, who leaves the company this year, steals the show as a spectacular Benjamin, friend to the prince, but who is actually his servant. In their introduction to Cinderella and her dysfunctional family, Wheeldon has the two exchanging identities. Son of veteran Cuban-trained ballet teacher Magaly Súarez, and himself an exemplary exponent of the Cuban school, Domitro has given many outstanding performances of classical roles over his years with the company. Here for possibly the first (and definitely the last) time, he reveals a punctilious talent for comic inflection. In a hand gesture to the prince, he dismissively brushes off an invitation to the ball as “the party you don’t want to be caught dead at,” and manically resisting—and then reversing himself—cheerily succumbs to Clementine’s myopic advances. The only sad note in this evening’s program (laden with overtones when you count the number of principals who are leaving or retiring), is that Domitro is yet another virtuoso who goes missing from the picture next season.

Toba Singer

Toba Singer, author of “Fernando Alonso, the Father of Cuban Ballet” (University Press of Florida 2013), and “First Position: a Century of Ballet Artists” (Praeger 2007), writes for international dance journals and websites, and has served as an advisor to the San Francisco Museum of Performance and Design. She was the University Press of Florida author representative at the 2013 Miami International Book Fair. “Fernando Alonso, the Father of Cuban Ballet” was nominated for the Latin American Student Association Bryce Award, the de la Torre Research and Dance Scholars Award, and the Commonwealth Club California Book Award.