Cinderella Closes San Francisco Ballet’s 2017 Spring Season

14 May

First, let me confess that Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella for the Maryinsky Ballet captured my fancy when I saw it at Zellerbach Auditorium; I already seen the Wheeldon take on the fairy/morality tale in this dual company production.  There are samenesses in the Wheeldon version, but with all the prodigious production effects, one can easily get lost in the “how” of the production rather than the “why.”

In the Prelude Cinderella, her father and mother are together, until a coughing fit and a red-stained handkerchief tell the audience the mother is not long for this world.  The Fate figures appear and carry her aloft and into the mists of several screens. Father and daughter embrace in grief.  Then a tree begins to emerge from the tombstone and suddenly Cinderella, danced by Doris Andre, is seen at the grave side.  While she is there, the two step-sisters, Jahna Frantzkonis and Julia Rowe, appear; there is an initial greeting before the Stepmother, danced by Lauren Strongin, appears on the arm of the father. Ruben Martin-Cintas.  In the stillness of her appraisal, Andre conveys the rapid thought process of the new reality, but when Step-mother in a proprietary air, offers a bouquet, Cinderella grasps it briefly before allowing it to fall to the floor.  “Uh o,” one thinks, and one step daughter picks it up, thrusts it into the heroine’s hands before dashing it to the floor, the relationship defined.

Meanwhile, back at the Palace as the Queen leads her newly adult son, Guillaume [Carlo Di Lanno], along the wall identifying the generations of royal females, one knows what’s on the regal minds.  The Prince is scarcely enthusiastic and turns to his friend Benjamin, [Angelo Greco], for support.  Both are Italian, Italian trained and exhibit clear rapport, Greco being the ebullient replacement for Pascal Molat, possibly Basilio, Mercutio, and, one hopes, Colas.

The King, Ricardo Bustamonte, presents Guillaume with a pile of invitations for the ball.  Guillaume turns to Benjamin who suggests they trade places so that the Prince can appraise the distribution incognito.  All of which leads to the dysfunctional household where Cinderella is scullery maid.  She, of course, treats Guillaume, looking as if in training to portrait Jean-Louis Barrault as mime, with food and civility;  Hortense [Lauren Strongin] makes it her business to evict him, her attention getting distracted by Benjamin, scarlet coated, and the pile of invitations gets diminished by four.  Guillaume teaches Cinderella the basics of dancing; there is clear chemistry, but she rebuffs his approach and sends him on his way.
There is the usual ballroom preparatory fuss, accented by Hortense tearing up Cinderella’s invitation and tossing it into the fire.  Next come the golden masked Fate figures. The scenery disappears to reveal the tree grown from the mother’s grave before which the four seasons and their retinue perform and Cinderella emerges garbed in golden tutu and mask before the Four Fates appear , sporting wheels, making up the carriage over which Cinderella’s cape billows as the curtain comes down.

Act II is the ball with the regal Albert and Charlotte entering upstage center with the guests  attired in magenta, blue and teal. I found their assignments, understandably filler material, rather pedestrian.  I suppose some minor flirtations would have been distracting.  Guillaume appears in a romantic sleeves white shirt to Queen Charlotte’s dismay, and, clearly the disinterest of Hortense, Edwina and Clementine, until he disappears to return with his regal jacket.  Benjamin begins to have romantic feelings towards bespectacled Clementine.

Wheeldon I believe has taken the liberty of placing some of world-wide hunt for the mysterious princess into the ballroom scene, so that Isabella De Vivo and Jennifer Stahl double their assignments, first as Spring and Winter and then as Spanish and Russian respectively, joined by Amy Yuri as the Balinese princess. These latter variations are deliberately hokey, and almost irrelevant to the chemistry, lifts, swirls, entrances and exits between Guillaume and Cinderella.

At any rate, Guillaume is entranced, the monarchs are happy and everything looks hunky dory until the clock begins to chime midnight when confusion very cleverly reigns, Hortense lifts Cinderella’s mask and Guillaume is left with a golden-hued toe shoe as the curtain falls.

Act IV opens with a string of gilded French style chairs lowered from the flies, to be filled  by  a varied cast, from two huge ugly paper-mache characters, Mme Mansard, to the foreign princesses and others, trying to fit into the golden toe shoe as Benjamin attempts to serve as fitter. Failure and the line of empty chairs are hoisted towards the ceiling, forming an arch over the fateful kitchen in which Cinderella reflects on her brief joy and sequesters her shoe on top of the fireplace.  Almost immediately Edwina appears with the skeleton hoop skirt dismissing a night time companion and imperiously orders Cinderella to maintain silence.

When Benjamin and Guillaume arrive, Mother Hortense makes a great show of trying to hammer the solitary toe shoe onto Edwina’s foot.  Then the Four Fates lift Cinderella so she retrieves her shoe and is carried to a chair where she slips into the missing footgear, and is rewarded by a radiant Guillaume.  Hortense is utterly abject, but Cinderella approaches her and kisses her before the scene changes to the wedding ceremony under the magic tree.

I had no trouble believing Di Lanno’s prince nor Andre’s Cinderella – adults concerned about human happiness, belief in dreams being fulfilled – admirably portrayed and technically up to the challenges of the roles.  I just wish there had been more about them and less about the production, although I admit it was both fun and masterfully realized.

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