In no particular order, our highlights from Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella,Â which we were lucky to catch earlier this month. Thank you, Dutch National Ballet, for bringing it to London!
1) Costumes and Designs
As Wheeldon had already proven with Aliceâ€™s Adventures, heÂ knows how to commission eye-popping design. PairingÂ up with Julian Crouch, the production team has created magnificent costumes, like Cinderellaâ€™s delicate ball gown that hints atÂ both nature (leaves) and royalty (golden), plusÂ colourfulÂ designs for each of “the four seasons”. We alsoÂ loved how they staged the initial scene in Act 3: exquisitely-dressed princesses from around the world (even an ogress!) play “musical chairs” while trying on the glass slippers, a clever use of the proscenium space that made theÂ audience swoon audibly.
2) English Masters
At different stages in the ballet, we see Wheeldon pay homage to Ashton and MacMillan. We have the princeâ€™s nurse, who seems to channel Ashtonâ€™s panto stepsisters, but in a more acceptable wayÂ (personally, we think Ashton misfired big with these two characters). Did we also pick up some MacMillan Easter eggs? We noticed umbrellasÂ during Cinderella’s mother’s funeral (as inÂ Mayerling), plus a funny drunken solo for theÂ stepmother (Manon).
3) Fluid Dances
Leave it to Wheeldon to always keep things moving! He explored this fluidity of movement to great effect in the â€œfour seasonsâ€ scene (just before the ball) as the music rises. However, we doÂ wonder whether he is too much in a hurry at times, especially asÂ theÂ ball scene unfolds (ok, the clock is ticking…). With the exception ofÂ some elaborate lifts and the above-mentioned drunken solo, there were not manyÂ big, sweeping moments in theÂ choreography here. For that, Wheeldon leavesÂ us hangingÂ until the Act IIIÂ pas de deux, when we find some tender, lovely moments between the prince and Cinderella.
4) Theatrical Magic
Wheeldon has made a trio of ballets thatÂ could easily be translated into West End productions.Â Aliceâ€™s Adventures in Wonderland, The Winterâ€™s Tale and CinderellaÂ all share common ground: gorgeous productions with fabulous stagecraft (unsurprisingly, Wheeldon has just bagged aÂ Tony award with An American in Paris).
ThisÂ Cinderella has one of the most gorgeousÂ transformation scenes we have ever seen in ballet: puppeteer Basil Twist has managed to conjureÂ Cinderellaâ€™s carriage out of thin air, in a scene that takes place underneath the lushÂ canopyÂ of aÂ tree that represents motherly love. Spinning branches become the wheels, with the fates (wearing horses’s heads) pulling it forward, while Cinderellaâ€™s swirling cape gives it shape. A breathtakingÂ coup de thÃ©Ã¢tre.
5) Smart Decisions
No fairies, no super annoying stepsisters, less pantomime, and characters thatÂ are more proactive than reactive: we never see Cinderella reduced to a sobbing, helpless mess. These are sound decisions that makeÂ the story feel more relevant to todayâ€™s audiences. Wheeldon also explores the idea of a mother looking after her child beyond the grave (the fertile tree) as a replacement for the usual godmother, and givesÂ us a modern version of a Prince. Not all of his changes make sense to us (for instance, a scene whereÂ young Cinders rejects aÂ bouquet presented byÂ the stepsisters) but, in general, they help make this Cinderella a more grown-up ballet.
6) The Prince
Cinderella productions traditionally wait until the ballroom scene in Act II to introduce us to the Prince. As that leaves next to no time to develop his character, we learn nothing about him: he’s just an elegant nobleman. Moreover, the central pas de deuxÂ often becomes the only opportunity to establish a romantic connection between Cinders and her princeÂ (ok, Ashton nailed this one!). But Wheeldon and his collaborator Craig Lucas decided to changeÂ things around, giving Prince Guillaume a backstory, complete with a Mercutio-like friend (Benjamin) and an early encounter with CindersÂ Ã la Parent Trap. The result? a Prince that we can actually rootÂ for.