A huge green tree spreads its branches over Dutch National Ballet’s Cinderella, an image of the heroine’s protective mother. For a story about transformations, Christopher Wheeldon’s production finds plenty of changes for itself. It’s an inventive, often tender-hearted staging, with swirling dances and satisfying stage magic.
This Cinderella, a co-production for Dutch National Ballet and San Francisco Ballet in 2012, shows Wheeldon in confident and characteristic form. Some of its imagery, from that huge tree to designer Julian Crouch’s colour palette of purples and greens, would return in Wheeldon’s The Winter’s Tale for the Royal Ballet. The tone is very different, with a deftness and energy that makes this a distinctive Cinderella.
A prologue shows the death of the heroine’s mother, with a tree growing over her grave. It also shows the Prince, and his best friend Benjamin, growing up. As teenagers, they swap identities, giving the Prince a chance to meet Cinderella before the ball. The characters are set up briskly and concisely.
I miss some of the traditions that Wheeldon leaves out. The new elements leave less time for the forlorn, neglected Cinderella – usually the heart of this wish-fulfilment story. Four male Fates guide her to the ball, but there’s no fairy godmother, no warning about midnight. The transformations themselves are terrific. Puppeteer Basil Twist conjures her coach before our eyes – leaves become wheels, Fates become horses, while Cinderella’s own cloak billows up to be the canopy of her carriage.
Anna Tsygankova’s Cinderella is nicely assertive, full of wonder at the magic around her. Dancing at the ball, she’ll suddenly put her heels down, keeping in touch with reality – before taking flight in a dazzle of footwork and soaring jumps. Matthew Golding’s prince responds with a dashing flurry of spins and leaps. In many productions, the pacing of Prokofiev’s fizzing score can be a problem, but Wheeldon finds plenty of time for the lovers’ story.
Without the clock, Cinderella’s flight is triggered by the moment she automatically picks up a tray dropped by Larissa Lezhnina’s elegantly spiteful stepmother. Some of Wheeldon’s slapstick has a sour edge: the stepmother’s tipsiness, the child prince and Benjamin teasing their voluptuous nursemaid.
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There’s unexpected sweetness, too: Remi Wörtmeier’s fleet-footed Benjamin falls for the kinder of the two stepsisters, Nadia Yanowsky’s bespectacled Hortensia. They’re an endearingly goofy pair. The women waiting to try on Cinderella’s slipper are individualised, tapping their feet and making pattering hand gestures as they move up the queue.
It’s a production full of dancing, showing off the clean technique and lively performers of Dutch National Ballet. Wheeldon turns the Seasons divertissement into a vague masque, but his ballroom scene is a whirl of rhythm and colour.