San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
San Francisc, CA
March 12, 2014
by Rita Felciano
copyright © Rita Felciano 2014
Engaging first rate collaborators won't guarantee a first class work of art but without having them you will certainly not get it. A second look at Christopher Wheeldon's two-and-a half hour elaborate, theatrically voluptuous "Cinderella," which SFB premiered last season, seems to suggest that this gifted choreographer may given much too much control of the project to his collaborators. By attempting a fresh perspective on the much beloved fairytale, Wheeldon lost focus of the story's simplicity: it's about virtue rewarded, evil defeated. The fact that this prince is presented as an ordinaryl young man has really little to do with the tasks he is expected to assume. This "Cinderella" that stands on its inventive production values, an intermittently successful sense of humor and the very fine performances by the SFB dancers. But it is not a ballet carried by the quality of its choreography. Wheeldon ended up with a great deal of cleverness but he gave up the heart of the story.
Wheeldon is a very fine choreographer of duets, and yet neither the Grand Pas de Deux for the Prince (Joan Boada) and Cinderella's (Maria Kotchekova) during the ballroom scene, rose to the kind of heights and intensity that such an occasion would imply. The small one for the finale, ending in a bucolic picture pose, had its charm but was oddly placed. Were we supposed to them in the end as "real" while before they were their part?
Perhaps Wheeldon's most intriguingly choreographed passages came in the ballroom whose waltzing couples seemed ordinary enough until they were caught in some kind of madness that would whip through them some kind of temporary frenzy. That's where the darkness in Prokofiev score came most to the forefront, though I must confess I didn't understand its dramatic relevance. Wafting back and forth on the sidelines, the dancers became human scenery, but quite out of place with the toy king Albert (Ricardo Bustamente) and his Queen Charlotte (Anita Paciotti, her hair a spitting image of the current British Queen). I kept thinking of Balanchine's "La Valse." Was this the Prince's nightmare, some dream?
Whatever glory there is to this "Cinderella" belongs to the SFB Dancers. Much of the casting was familiar. Maria Kotchekova invested every gesture, every turn and every achingly stretched arm with a presence that would have been impossible to resist. She can be such a powerhouse of technique; here she kept everything with the parameter's parameters. Joan Boada's prince was less stodgy; he made a worthier partner to Taras Domitro's Benjamin. Damian Smith, who will retire at the end of the current season, managed to keep the women in his life in balance but in control.
I do remember -- I know comparisons are odious -- Ashton's exquisite choreography for the Seasons. Wheeldon's was quite thin though James Garcia Castilla, as the lead in Summer, and Jennifer Stahl's ice queen in Winter, sparkled in their parts.
Martin West excellently conducted the orchestra in this jumbled arrangement of Prokofiev's score. He and his musicians just about received the longest ovation. It was well deserved.
copyright Rita Felciano 2014