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BWW World Dance Reviews: Christopher Wheeldon's CINDERELLA Performed by the San Francisco Ballet

You know that song from A Chorus Line, Everything was Beautiful at the Ballet. Well, at Christopher Wheeldon's new version of Cinderella, the costumes and scenery are exquisite, as is much of the dancing. As for the ballet itself, it is a muddle, which I attribute more to the music of Sergei Prokofiev than anything else.

Prokofiev wrote an inspired score for the ballet Romeo and Juliet, and its extensive discography attests to this. But the music for Cinderella, with the exceptions of the great waltz in Acts I and II and Cinderella's theme, is not engaging. While many might tend to disagree with me, I hold firm in my belief that the music is stretched out too long, especially in the second act. There's so much dull music that I wonder why choreographers don't cut at least 15 minutes, or else choreograph to one or all three of the Cinderella suites. By making Act II even more tedious by extending the dance, I tend to lose interest.

As with so many other versions of Cinderella, this one goes for novelty. So we get a tree that grows, chairs that hang above the stage, a step-sister who's supposed to be funny because she wears glasses. Yes, there are some genuine surprises such as the pumpkin transformation at the end of Act One, which brings forth audience enthusiasm.

But I was thinking. If we really want novelty, let's pull out all the stops. Why not stage a Cinderella during the time that Prokofiev wrote it, 1940-1945. Cinderella could be the leader of the Communist Pioneers who turned her sisters in to the authorities, and is now and preaching to the masses from Moscow to Siberia. But this is cut short by the news that the Germans have invaded, and Cinderella, loyal party member that she is, goes off to fight on the Eastern front. Act II could take place in Stalingrad, where Cinderella has won several medals for bravery. During a lull in the fighting-as if there was a lull-Cinderella attends a dance and meets Dmitry, another comrade. They instantly fall in love, but this rapture is interrupted by the chimes announcing that the Germans have broken through a blockade. Dmitry runs off to join his squad and a sorrowful, but steadfast Cinderella, goes out once more to wage battle with the enemy. Act III would take place in Moscow after peace has been declared. Poor Cinderella is back where she was before, loaded down with even more medals, but mourning the loss of her beloved Dmitry. Suddenly there is a knock on the door, and when Cinderella goes to answer it, who should enter but a beaming Comrade Stalin with a big bowl of borscht. And right behind Stalin is Dmitry. The two lovers declare their love again and plan a marriage based on their allegiance to fighting the lousy, capitalist Americans. And the curtain falls. I think it's a swell idea, but it might not work because I'm not sure if many people know who Stalin is, or was, or even care.

The dancing, on all fronts, was exemplary. Maria Kochetkova as Cinderella was outstanding. There was a quiet radiance about her; she was strong, but delicate, and her characterization was just as firm and believable as her dancing. Joan Boada as Prince Guillaume brought impressive and fleet foot work to his dancing, and proved to be an ardent partner. I'd like to see these two dancers in Giselle. All the others, too numerous to mention in this short review, proved that San Francisco Ballet's reputation as a company for strong technicians is was well merited. They are the equal of any New York based ballet company.

Still, a Cinderella in search of music is always elusive. Perhaps if Prokofiev had been writing the music at a different time; maybe he needed more inspiration. Unlike the best of Prokofiev, bracing, commanding and piercing, this score always slips under the radar of the great ballet scores. I am sure that choreographers will never stop finding new ways in which to present their choreographic visions to audiences in the future. But, from what I have seen, not one version has ever achieved the goal of immortality, or even long-lived staying power, with the exception of Ashton's version, another one I do not particularly favor.

Or, in the end, is it me?

Photograph: © Erik Tomasson

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From This Author Barnett Serchuk