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Joanna G. Harris
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War Memorial Opera House
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Wheeldon's 'Cinderella' visually stunning but flawed

by Joanna G. Harris
May 3, 2013
War Memorial Opera House
301 Van Ness Avenue at Grove Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 861-5600
Joanna G. Harris
Author, Beyond Isadora: Bay Area Dancing, 1916-1965. Regent Press, Berkeley, CA, 2009. Contributor to reviews on culturevulture.net
The much-awaited U.S. premiere of choreographer Christopher Wheeldon's "Cinderella" by San Francisco Ballet arrived Friday evening May 3, 2013 and was pronounced a great success by an enthusiastic audience.

The Dutch National Ballet, Wheeldon, SF artistic director Helgi Thomasson and a brilliant group of designers and associates share the credit for the visually stunning production.

There were marvels to behold. The Prologue showed us the death of Cinderella's mother and her subsequent transformation into a tree! "The four fates": Lightness, Generosity, Mystery and Fluidity, also known as the seasons, assisted her transformation and the rest in the ballet. Who needs a fairy godmother when there are a myriad of gnomes, puppeteers, servants and four wonderful gold masked dancers as "fates" to work wonders? The fates were danced by Daniel Deivison-Oliveira, Garen Price Scribner, Anthony Spaulding and Shane Wuerthner.

The ballet's greatest wonder though was the SFB principal dancer Maria Kochetkova as Cinderella. As a performer she is a skilled actress, a superb partner and an adroit technician. Although Wheeldon was not generous with the choreography she was given, Kochetkova shone in the character projecting an air of innocence as the unjustly treated girl and in other facets of her character. Her dancing was delicate, her timing perfect and her demeanor divine.

Other distinguished roles included "stepsisters" Sarah Van Patten and Frances Chung. They and Katita Waldo as the stepmother were accomplished in bringing humor and charm to a production that was otherwise overwhelmed with devices. The best of these devices were the circle of chairs that floated above Cinderella's kitchen; the most complex was the "seasons" scenes in which seemingly dozens of persons and objects appeared and disappeared in no particular order. Of course there were chandeliers, pillars and backdrops that moved in and out constantly for the several scene changes. But where was the dancing?

Joan Boada made a valiant effort as Prince Guillaume. He was best when interacting with his friend "Benjamin" as portrayed by Taras Domitro. His gallantry and romantic skill as a partner to Kochetkova was not fulfilled partly due to his stature and partly that their pas de deuxs were uninteresting in shape, design and excitement. Set to waltz music for the ballet by Prokofiev, the ballroom scene was dominated by a group dance from the corps de ballet in purple and green costumes disrupting the focus on the Prince and Cinderella. This reviewer would have rather watched the leads.

With Wheeldon's "Cinderella" however, SFB in partnership with the Dutch National Ballet closed its 2013 season in triumph. It will most likely be repeated in the 2014 season for all those who could not get tickets this season.

The design staff of Julian Crouch, scenic and costumes; Natasha Katz, lighting; Basil Twist, tree and carriage sequence; Daniel Brodie, projection design and Frank McCullagh, scenic associate must be congratulated. The orchestra was, as usual, conducted with great care by Martin West.

Lastly, I earnestly wish that Mr. Wheeldon would extend his choreographic talents to create more inventive dances.
Maria Kochetkova in Wheeldon's Cinderella.

Maria Kochetkova in Wheeldon's Cinderella.

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Tomasson

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