BWW Reviews: Wheeldon's CINDERELLA Meanders and Misses the Mark
As I mentioned last week in my largely favorable review of one of the San Francisco Ballet's mixed bills at the Koch Theatre in NYC, the company under the direction of Helgi Tómmasen is first rate. Yet the excellent dancing in Christopher Wheeldon's "Cinderella", which I saw on Friday evening, couldn't save the production from being overwrought and hard to follow. The opening scenes, with the child Cinderella suffering the untimely death of her mother and the teenage Cinderella meeting her overbearing stepmother and the stepsisters, were promising indeed. So was the scene in which Prince Guillaume as a boy makes mischief with his friend Benjamin, a foreshadowing of the trickery they will engage in as young men trying to keep the prince from the fate of an arranged marriage. Unfortunately, the story line wandered from that auspicious beginning although the plot plant (no pun intended) of the tree at the mother's grave seemed to be an attempt to hold the narrative together.
Long passages of dancing without any apparent rationale, including one love pas de deux too many, created a kind of narrative torpor. Of course that is in some measure because Prokofiev's score, except for the hauntingly beautiful waltz and the clock scene, is far from his best. Yet even the program notes strained to explain Wheeldon's scenario. Not only that, but the ballet veered back and forth unconvincingly from comedy to seriousness. One minute the stepsisters were dancing with admirable technique and not a hint of malice or clumsiness, yet the next phrase had them suddenly turn clownish. Then in the ballroom scene, the stepmother got drunk. This turn of events, which was meant to be funny, was a joke that bombed. But then I felt the same way about the tipsy stepmother in James Kudelka's "Cinderella" for the National Ballet of Canada and the American Ballet Theatre. Humor can easily slip into slapstick and that's exactly what happened in both instances, to the detriment of the art form.
Another hapless scene in Wheeldon's version was the line of chairs with women from around the world trying on the shoe one by one. Unaccountably, after most the chairs were flown to hang precariously above the stage, several chairs and some of the women reappeared right in Cinderella's kitchen where the Prince and Benjamin proceeded to continue their quest. Then the ballet lapsed back into slapstick as the stepmother tried to make the shoe fit the more cantankerous of the stepsisters. I yearned for Ashton's stepsisters who performed in travesty and never tried to be anything but genuinely comedic.