BWW Reviews: SF Ballet's CINDERELLA is Beautiful and Fresh

Christopher Wheeldon's playful choreography perfectly matches Sergei Prokofiev's talent for combining characters, story and music. Both artists have a unique quality that makes their work instantly recognizable. So it's only fitting that Wheeldon should take on Prokofiev's "Cinderella." And he partners with a long list of scenic, lighting and puppet designers, most with experience working in the Broadway, film and opera industries. The result led to sold-out crowds for last year's run at San Francisco Ballet. Now the production returns for a limited time with the audience anticipation and enthusiasm just as strong.

Partly inspired by the original Grimm fairy tale, the Dutch National Ballet co-production offers a libretto by Craig Lucas with a new prologue and a changed story. In place of a magical godmother, a fantastical tree grows from Cinderella's tears while she mourns the death of her mother. Seasonal spirits in bright colors later teach Cinderella to dance, culminating in the heroine emerging from her mother's tree and wearing Julian Crouch's golden, feathered ball gown. The audience also gains a new appreciation for the prince, as Lucas' story makes room for the prince as both a child and young man. He and best friend Benjamin switch places, allowing the prince an opportune meeting with Cinderella before the ball. Benjamin and the kinder of Cinderella's two step-sisters fall in love, as well.

These new developments turn the mood of this "Cinderella" a tad more serious than previous productions, but also far more romantic and sweeping. Crouch's scenic design features overwhelming ballroom candelabras that eventually lower among the branches and leaves of a vast tree, marvelously combining the worlds of Cinderella and her prince. Every detail, every flowing dress and handsome leap, result in a visually stimulating experience.

Here lives a Cinderella whom audiences can relate to, a Cinderella with an always generous and loving heart and a strong spirit. Her plight is aided by four "Fates" who effortlessly lift her on air and manipulate her story like the hands on the timeless clock. Wheeldon's choices for Cinderella's fighting step-sisters and drunk stepmother, and his fun third-act trying on of the glass slipper, leave plenty of room for fresh comedy, too. Various dancers alternate in the principal roles.

At Wednesday evening's performance, Yuan Yuan Tan conveyed Cinderella's child-like joy with striking innocence. Gaetano Amico, Daniel Deivison-Oliveira, Steven Morse and Luke Willis led the production as the alluring, mysterious fates. Luke Ingham danced the role of the prince and Hansuke Yamamoto danced the role of Benjamin, both clear standouts of the performance.


SF Ballet
Through March 23
Photo © Erik Tomasson of Yuan Yuan Tan

Follow Harmony Wheeler's theatre adventures on Instagram and Twitter @HarmonyWheeler.

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