Cinderella: Her Second Season with SFB, March 13

17 Mar

For foodies who also like ballet, the buffet in San Francisco’s Opera House is recommended once you pick up your tickets if not mailed to you. The hot dishes can be impressive, if simple, the roast beef succulent. It is the array of salads and vegetables where the buffet seems to excel; celery root julienned; farro with raisins and carrots; asparagus spears, spinach with citrus fruit. The prospect of second helpings and a complimentary glass of champagne is further inducement.

This year I elected the Thursday night program partly because Norman Hersch could only go that night and I wanted to see Frances Chung switch roles from an ugly sibling to the chosen one, Cinderella herself. She is such an admirable dancer; correct, musical, willing, and also reticent though gracious, altogether a formidable combination. Truly a company dancer, her attitude reminds me a bit of Margot Fonteyn, minus any brouhaha. What’s not to admire?

Davit Karapetyan was Chung’s Prince Charming with Diego Cruz making his debut as Benjamin, the Prince’s friend. Shannon Rugani rendered a powerful portrait of Stepmother Hortensia, understated but definite. Elizabeth Powell and Ellen Rose Hummel horsed it up as the two step sisters, Hummel’s Clementine winning Cruz’ Benjamin. Reuben Martin Cintas created a believable father, bereft, then remarried, pecked and coat holder, but ultimately defender of his blood child. In the royal household, Ricardo Bustamonte and Anita Paciotti were suitably anxious about princely behavior and marital choices, while Val Caniparoli’s Alfred worried a tad about Benjamin’s mischief and as Madame Mansard, Katita Waldo was completely flumoxed by her two young charges. Interesting note: Pascale Le Roy created the Mansard role last May, shortly before she was dismissed from San Francisco Ballet School’s staff, a post filled easily a decade or more.

Missing is the fairy god-mother. At the fireplace she is replaced by the Prince in disguise who is given food by Cinderella, a neat insert for cause and effect. Quickly the four Fates- Gaetano Amico, Daniel Deivison-Oliveira, Luke Willis and Shane Wuerthner intervene; providing wheels for Cinderella’s carriage to the ball, following the seasons’ coaching session in personal qualities. The seasons and their entourages didn’t seem to convey qualities to me, though the dancing was excellent. Jaime Garcia Castilla’s fluid a la seconde developpes were breathtaking as Summer while the Autumnal carrot wig [Halloween?]on Hansuke Yamamoto’s warred visually with his usual allegro fleetness.

One can scarcely fault Julian Crouch’s scenery and costumes except for the questionable taste in costuming the princesses from Spain, Russia and Bali; Goya doublet and hose, Orthodox robes and heavily veiled saris make me cringe over the mental processes which decided the selection and its visualization. His visual reference to the tree emerging from the mother’s tombstone with its weighted reference to the earth and regeneration is apt and touching, regardless of the more traditional story. As a beginning and finale it serves its purpose tidily.

Without doubt it’s a stunning production, from the tree emerging from the mother’s tomb, to the suggestion of regal status by the use of rust-hued pillars and a fussy sofa. Cinderella’s ballgown shimmers with its vertical wheat-like strands matches the billowing scarf-like train as she rides on the wheels of her gallant fates.

I enjoy stage business when it provokes a smile and is appropriate to the action. The global trek changed: three princesses come to conquer in a broadened riff of Swan Lake. Mother Hortensia’s inebriation rated a chuckle or two, and the nastier of the two sisters made appeared in a garmentless hoop with an overnight suitor quickly departing with drooping suspenders. (How could he have reached her?) The candidates to fit the slipper paraded and departed on a row of chairs, any remaining hastened by a functionary in glinting medieval armor; the chairs gradually lurched their way upwards before the final shoe fitting.

Clearly those excellent dancing Fates were employed to emphasize the magical crucial moments; however, the story’s message is strong enough to dispense with their services. When Cinderella retrieves her slipper from the sequestered fireplace niche, she is lifted. Granted, the lodging was high enough to require some assistance; but did it need to be that high in the first place? The interplay between Chung and Karapetyan was sufficiently strong to convey special recognition, a felicity that grew between them throughout the performance.

Would I want to see it again? Sure. I would hope for an unexpected encounter with Elaine Connell, former Asian Art Museum Commissioner and one time seventh grade school teacher in San Francisco who said her class nick-named her Blanca Brujo. Her friend Nancy Zacker regaled us with references to her relatives living in pre Gold Rush Sutter’s Fort. At intermission I was introduced to Don Blateman and his wife Emerald. Blateman was responsible for the inspiring documentary on the three Berkeley housewives/mothers who pioneered saving San Francisco Bay. It was a few hours of evenly balanced fantasy, memoir and social vision.

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