San Francisco Ballet's Frances Chung and Joseph Walsh in Wheeldon's Cinderella, Photo: Erik Tomasson
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Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella, set to Sergei Prokofiev’s score can currently be seen at the War Memorial Opera House. (Schedule below).

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s Cinderella, Photos: Erik Tomasson

It is a credit to a choreographer and a dance company and when a story is so clearly told that it stands out.

Who needs a fairy godmother?

In an exquisite performance of “Cinderella,” the San Francisco Ballet offered its audience a charming and non-Disney-fied version of the venerable story. Opening with the tragic death of a young girl’s mother, the ballet begins on a somber note. When the mother is buried and her husband and child appear in front of her gravestone, we see just behind the gravestone a stunning tree, a tree that grows and looms large, becoming a potent symbol throughout the performance.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s Cinderella, Photo: Erik Tomasson

As we watch the young girl who would become Cinderella moving into her teenage years, we watch her dance in front of the tree in a dance that’s a poignant mixture of both sadness and the joy of youth. We all know from the familiar story, the girl’s father chooses a new woman as his wife: Hortensia, a difficult woman with two daughters of her own. The “mean girl” stepsisters we’ve come to know in the Disney version are far more complex figures here, offering attempts at friendship as well as hostility toward Cinderella.

A fairy godmother, a la Disney, never appears to save Cinderella from her new role as housemaid to Hortensia and her stepsisters. Instead, Cinderella is rescued from that fate by an intriguing group of forest creatures and spirits who lend her some much-needed support. They eventually whisk her away to the prince’s ball in a golden carriage, a plot development we could all see coming, one that at the end leads to her much happier fate. These spirits notably include two very unconventional “big-headed creatures” who engage the audience’s attention as soon as they appear.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s Cinderella, Photo: Erik Tomasson

Standouts in the performance include, first and foremost, Frances Chung as Cinderella, dancing with fantastic lightness and charm, executing Christopher Wheeldon’s magnificent choreography to perfection. She’s joined by Joseph Walsh as Prince Guillaume, along with his friend Benjamin, performed by Esteban Hernandez. The audience was captivated by these two young dancers as they leapt and twirled across the stage.

Also standing out were Sarah Van Patten as Hortensia, especially when she assumed the role of a very drunk older woman at the prince’s ball. Elizabeth Powell as stepsister Edwina and Ellen Rose Hummel as stepsister Clementine (the invariably kinder one, complete with eyeglasses to distinguish her from her more prickly sister), performed their roles with brio.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s Cinderella, Photo: Erik Tomasson

The entire cast excelled, offering the audience boundless energy and beauty. Underlining the entire performance was the stunning music by Sergei Prokofiev (first performed by the Bolshoi Ballet in 1945). Also adding to the performance were the glorious costuming, clever makeup, and brilliant design created by a host of talented people. In particular, Cinderella’s dazzling gold gown, in which she is garbed when transformed just in time to make her appearance at the prince’s ball, is astounding.

Christopher Wheeldon’s decision to adapt the Cinderella story to more closely resemble the version described by the Brothers Grimm, later interpreted by the French writer Charles Perrault–thereby setting aside the familiar Disney version (inhabited by a chubby fairy godmother and silly mice-companions to Cinderella)–was an immensely wise one. In this version, we can see Cinderella as a three-dimensional human being, not merely a cartoon character who’s all sweetness and light. Bravo, Christopher Wheeldon! Come and enjoy.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s Cinderella, Photo: Erik Tomasson

Cinderella is a co-production of San Francisco Ballet and Dutch National Ballet.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020 at 7:30 pm

Wednesday, January 22, 2020 at 7:30 pm

Thursday, January 23, 2020 at 7:30 pm

Friday, January 24, 2020 at 8:00 pm

Saturday, January 25, 2020 at 2:00 pm

Saturday, January 25, 2020 at 8:00 pm

Sunday, January 26, 2020 at 2:00 pm

Saturday, February 1, 2020 at 2:00 pm

Saturday, February 1, 2020 at 8:00 pm

Sunday, February 2, 2020 at 2:00 pm

For information and tickets


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