Standard YouTube Licence
Dutch National Ballet Cinderella 22 Dec 2018 , 20:00, Stopera, Amsterdam
In July 2015 the Dutch National Ballet performed Christopher Wheeldon's Cinderella at the Coliseum. It played to full houses and audiences seemed to like it but though not all critics did. In my review, Wheeldon's Cinderella 13 July 2015, I wrote:
"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 warmed to it 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."Well, I saw it in the Stopera on Saturday 22 Dec 2018 and was bowled over by it. At the end of the second act, I wrote on my Facebook page: "Christmas has been made for me by DutchNatBallet's Cinderella even if I never get a single present, a Christmas card, a slice of Turkey, a smidgeon of plum pudding, a mince pie or a whiff of mulled wine."
Why the difference? The answer came when I joined a tour of the Stopera for new Friends on my birthday in 2016 (see Double Dutch Delights 17 Feb 2016). One of the senior technical staff welcomed us to the stage and showed us some of the computer equipment at his command. I mentioned that I had attended a performance of Cinderella in London the previous summer and asked him how the company found the Coliseum. He replied that the company enjoyed their visit to London very much through the Coliseum lacked the state-of-the-art equipment and facilities that they enjoy at the Stopera. That equipment enabled the tree over the grave of Cinderella's mother to grow and change colour with the seasons. It showed birds in flight and falling rain at the funeral of Cinderella's mother.
I noted the similarities between Cinderella and The Winter's Tale in my previous review. In both, the lead characters were introduced as children and both features a massive tree. In a strange sort of way, Cinderella was actually more Shakespearean than the ballet that was based on a Shakespeare play. Excitement was ratcheted up as in a Shakespearean play. When Cinderella's appeared in a golden gown the lights on stage were cut and the house lights switched to full brightness. That moment was matched at the end of the next act when Cinderella ran off stage right into the stalls and through the audience to the exit.
There was also plenty of humour that provided dramatic relief. Cinderella's stepmother, Hortensia, became tight at the ball as the evening wore on much to the embarrassment of her husband. Benjamin, the prince's friend, fell head over heels in love with the plainer of Hortensia's daughters. The most unpromising candidates queued to try Cinderella's abandoned slipper including a Balinese princess with long nails and a spiked headdress, a forest spirit with an outsized head and a knight in full armour brandishing a battle axe. Levity is not easy to induce in ballet. Ashton managed it his Cinderella in his pairing with Robert Helpmann as Cinderella's ugly sisters and Wheeldon succeeded in his version of the ballet.
In London, I had seen Remi Wörtmeyer as Benjamin, the prince's friend. On Saturday he was promoted to prince, a role that suited him well. Benjamin was danced by Sho Yamada who has impressed me twice this year. Cinderella was Anna Ol. She commanded the audience's respect from the start and not our pity. She showed her spirit from the moment her father (Anatole Babenko) introduced her to Hortensia. Hortensia had offered her a bunch of flowers that she tossed to the floor. I sensed fear on the part of the stepmother and her sisters rather than simple malice. Hortensia, a difficult role, was danced impressively by Vera Tsyganova. Luiza Bertho danced Cinderella's stepsister Edwina and Riho Sakamoto, her other stepsister Clementine. Finally, it was great to see Jane Lord on stage again as a dance teacher.
As I had benefited from attending Rachael Beaujean's talk on Giselle last month, I attended the introductory talk on Cinderella. That took the form of a Powerpoint presentation in a lecture room `below the auditorium between 19:15 and 19:45. Although it was given in Dutch which is a language I have never studied I think I got the gist of it as Dutch is closely related to Engish and German. I learned that this ballet is a co-production with the San Francisco Ballet, about Ashton's influence over Wheeldon, the significance of the tree and all sorts of other useful facts.
The ballet will run to 1 Jan 2019 and is playing to full houses. Readers who miss it this month in Amsterdam will have a chance to see English National Ballet perform a version in the round in the Albert Hall between 6 and 16 June 2019.