Monday, 13 July 2015

Wheeldon's Cinderella




Dutch National Ballet, Cinderella, The Coliseum 12 July 2015

When I reviewed Darius James's Cinderella for Ballet Cymru on 15 June 2015 I wrote:
"I have seen a lot of versions of Cinderella over the years: Ashton's of course for the Royal Ballet but also Matthew Bourne's set in wartime London, Nixon's for Northern Ballet and a version danced by the Bristol Russian Youth Ballet Company which starred Elena Glurdjidze (see Good Show - Bristol Russians' Cinderella in Stockport 19 Feb 2014), Until yesterday evening I liked Ashton's version best but now I think I prefer Darius James and Amy Doughty's for Ballet Cymru. Perhaps I will change my mind again when I see Christopher Wheeldon's for the Dutch National Ballet at the Coliseum on 11 July 2015 as it looks lovely in the YouTube trailer, but for now this Welsh Cinderella is my favourite."
Well, guess what. I did fall for Christopher Wheeldon's Cinderella on Saturday night. Not that it has surpassed the Welsh version in my affection (for that remains a little gem) but I like it at least as well.

It would be unfair to compare Wheeldon's Cinderella with Darius James's. Wheeldon created his Cinderella for a big national company with a massive cast and the Stopera's cavernous stage. James created his for touring small local theatres by a a limited number of dancers on a fixed budget, It would be like comparing a Mogul miniature with The Night Watch. Both succeed on their own terms. Having said that, I did find more than a few similarities between the two works. Wheeldon, like James, seems to have consulted the Brothers Grimm in creating his ballet for he has also eschewed fairy godmothers and centred his ballet around a tree. Trees together with prologues seem to be something of a Wheeldon trade mark for he did the same in The Winter's Tale (see Royal Ballet "The Winter's Tale" 14 April 2014).  James, however, used birds to rescue Cinderella whereas Wheeldon used spirits, namely those of Lightness, Generosity, Mystery and Fluidity. In fact there were also spirits of another kind for one of the most hilarious scenes of the second act is where Cinderella's stepmother has one glass too many.

The performance that I saw on Saturday had Anna Tsygankova as Cinderella and Matthew Golding as the prince. As for the other major roles, Alexander Zhembrovskyy danced Cinderella's father, Larissa Lezhnina as her stepmother, Wen Ting Guan and Nadia Yanowski as her stepsisters and Remi Wörtmeyer as the prince's friend. I was pleased to see that several members of the Junior Company had been given  significant roles. Emilie Tassinari, for instance, was one of the spirits of lightness, Riho Sakamoto, was one of the bird ladies and Bart Engelen and Veronika Verterich were tree gnomes and Nancy Burer was a Balinese. As it was Michaela DePrince who had originally attracted me to the company I was delighted to see her dance again as one of the ladies of the royal court. It was also good to see James Stout again. He had impressed me in Cool Britannia. He danced one of the four fates.

To my surprise and disappointment this productions had received very mixed reviews on BalletcoForum. One of the subscribers complained of "a really boring evening" and described the "so-called comedy" as vulgar. Linda Morris, who like me has seen a lot of ballet over the years including Ashton's Cinderella, was much more generous. She saw the show on Wednesday evening and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have to admit to a certain bias as a Friend of the Dutch National Ballet but I was pleased to read her concluding sentence:
"And the Dutch National Company is in very fine form if I were a young dancer about to join this Company I'd feel very excited indeed."
That is my view too.

There have to be a number of comic scenes in anybody's version of Cinderella if it is to bear any relationship to the Grimm brothers' tale such as the ludicrous attempts by the stepsisters to force their feet into Cinderella's shoe. I have already mentioned the stepmother's tipsiness at the ball. I thought those scenes were very witty and provided relief from the very sad theme of coping with grief which is, after all, the underlying theme of the story.

I enjoyed the show. I liked Wheeldon's treatment of the story, the dancing, Julian Crouch's designs and Natasha Katz's lighting. I prefer it to The Winter's Tale to which I was indifferent when I first saw it on stage but armed to when I saw it in the cinema and on television. It may be that Wheeldon is an acquired taste and that his critics will come round. I look forward to seeing the show again and I think it will look even better on the stage of the Stopera.

Other Reviews

The Ballet Bag   Six Reasons to love Wheeldon's Cinders  

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