Christopher Wheeldon gives us a complex “Cinderella,” absent
even a soupçon of “The Cinderella Complex” that feminist therapists pride
themselves in vanquishing, but which others of their profession reluctantly accommodate
to. Wheeldon sidelines the Charles Perrault version of the story in favor of
the Grimm. He subs a squadron of male Fates swathed in Indigo for the doughy
Fairy Godmother. He has Prince Guillaume swapping identities with Benjamin,
friend of the Prince, and mounts an environmentally correct investiture ceremony
to anoint Cinderella’s dear departed mother with “powers.” The assembled
mourners resurrect her as a force of nature, barely containable in a sheltering
tree that doubles and triples its girth, graveside. It’s the kind of thing Shel Silverstein took
to the bank with his children’s picture story, “The Giving Tree,” and it’s the
plot turnkey in this libretto, as if there were some obvious correspondence
between a lost-then-found glass slipper and Mother Nature showing up as a
spirit tree. Lucky for us, but maybe not for Wheeldon, he hires Natasha Katz to
light the show, and Julian Crouch for sets and unconventional costumes. Their
hefty contributions become scene-stealing elements, and that’s not to mention
the planting of glasses on the nose of Stepsister Clementine (Ellen Rose Hummel) which
bleat her as myopic throughout. He then adds divertissements-by-nation, the
kind that embarrass one too many story ballets, and sets them spinning
centrifugally, so that when the dancers finally stop, there’s a pileup Tower of
Ballet Babel of marriageable pretenders of every duchy (and description), stepping
over each other to attract the attention of the Prince.
If Wheeldon’s is the most comic Cinderella in memory, it also falls victim to a kitchen sink approach that lards the work with so much that is dramaturgically radical and visually stupefying, that the steps end up looking more like an afterthought than a platform for pageantry. This is in spite of outstanding and committed dispatch by Frances Chung as Cinderella; Joseph Walsh as Prince Guillaume; Katita Waldo as Madame Mansard, the extravagantly cock-eyed optimist; and Sarah Van Patten as Stepmother Hortensia, whose cockeyed condition is instilled by what was earlier distilled. The choreography is of the rotational, lift-punctuated style that Wheeldon unfailingly favors. Done to a Prokofiev score, it can add intrigue if you’ve never seen “Romeo and Juliet.” On the other hand, if you have seen it, you could find yourself watching the Cinderella ballroom scene as if carried away by a wrinkle in time, wondering what could be keeping the Capulets and the Montagues?
You may also wonder, with so many other Cinderella traditions kicked to the curb, why does the most illusory one—marrying the prince–survive? Why doesn’t Cinderella, upon claiming the missing shoe, do an Act III riff on “Megxit,” and grand jeté out of bounds, skirting Freed of London Dancewear, to head for a meet-up with her Prince Gil on a Heathrow runway, whereupon a Fairy Therapist appears, bearing two one-way Air Canada tickets to Toronto (in Coach). That way, the happy couple could forfeit “defining” their relationship and still live happily ever after!