Old-Fashioned Stage Magic
Christopher Wheeldon brings a darker Cinderella to life.
Don’t expect to see a fairy godmother or a pumpkin carriage in Christopher Wheeldon’s new Cinderella, which premieres this December at Dutch National Ballet and comes to San Francisco Ballet in May. While those signatures of Charles Perrault’s cheery version of the fairy tale have made their way into most ballet productions, Wheeldon decided to use the Brothers Grimm’s darker take on Cinderella. “Prokofiev’s score is beautiful, but it has an underlying tumultuousness that most choreographers have shied away from, focusing on the funny and the happy instead,” Wheeldon says. “I wanted to go back to the Grimm version because in a way it better fits the music.”
In keeping with the Grimm story, instead of a fairy godmother, there’s a magical tree that embodies the spirit of Cinderella’s dead mother. Puppeteer Basil Twist is bringing that tree to life—without the help of any high-tech digital effects. “What’s wonderful about Basil is that it’s all old-fashioned stage magic,” Wheeldon says. “We wanted to keep that aspect of the production relatively naïve and childlike. I gave Basil a couple of ideas and within minutes he was doing fantastical things with a couple of bits of cardboard and some silk.”
Wheeldon is also giving Cinderella herself more power. “I think little girls today are over the idea that if you’re obedient and meek, you’ll be rewarded with a prince,” Wheeldon says. “In our version, she’s more in control of her fate. We deal with her backstory—we see her losing her mother, and watch her learn the idea of keeping a stiff upper lip.” Wheeldon’s prince will be more than a cipher, too. “You’ll see him grow up,” Wheeldon says. “He won’t just appear as that handsome guy at the ball.”
Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker Makeover
Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker is getting a major facelift this season. “Our previous production was built piecemeal, bit by bit, as money became available,” says artistic director Mikko Nissinen. “It was time for something fresher and more coherent.”
Robert Perdziola’s new designs are more sophisticated than the old costumes and sets, which tended toward the pastel. “I think too often we’re seduced by that over-the-top Disney feel, and I’m beginning to get an allergic reaction to that—like there’s too much sugar in my soda,” Nissinen says. “Robert’s sets feel classical and old-world. And in the second act, yes, it’s all about sweets, but really it’s the kingdom of the Nutcracker Prince and the Sugar Plum Fairy, so we’ve given it a royal feel. It’s a sort of dance heaven: There’s a fresco celebrating the history of dance that evokes the Sistine Chapel.”
Nissinen is also reworking “about 65 percent” of the choreography. Old favorites like the Arabian variation, he says, will be left untouched. But his overhaul does include a reimagined battle scene and additional dancers in the Spanish variation, creating more opportunities for the company’s dancers.
Lopez Steps Up at MCB
Just one day after founding Miami City Ballet artistic director Edward Villella abruptly announced his early departure from the company, principal dancer Tricia Albertson had her first rehearsal with his replacement, Lourdes Lopez—for Apollo’s Polyhymnia variation, a dance she’d originally learned from Villella. But Albertson’s anxiety was short-lived. “Lourdes was sympathetic to the fact that we’d lost our ballet ‘Dad,’ ” says Albertson, who was also excited by the new director’s attention to detail.
Lopez’s authoritative but sensitive approach is setting the tone for MCB’s immediate future. While Albertson says the dancers were initially in shock over Villella’s early exit, she now recognizes that Lopez’s fresh eyes could open up possibilities for both individuals and the company as a whole. “Everybody just wants to work, wants the company to thrive, and wants to continue being a part of the magical things we’ve created here,” Albertson says.
As of this fall, the MCB administration—under the guidance of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ Michael Kaiser, a frequent white knight for struggling ballet companies—had raised $3 million, almost a quarter of its annual operating budget. “I’m very optimistic,” Albertson says. “If money allows Lourdes to do what she wants, I think she’ll be a great leader.” —Carrie Seidman
New McGregor at SFB
San Francisco Ballet has already had two tastes of Wayne McGregor’s work, performing his Eden/Eden, made for the Stuttgart Ballet, and Chroma, made for The Royal Ballet. This January, the company will finally premiere a McGregor ballet all its own.
“When we heard we’d be getting a new ballet, the buzz was electric,” says SFB soloist Dana Genshaft, a veteran of both Eden/Eden and Chroma. “We just ate up those first two pieces. Every time Wayne came to town, we were all asking, ‘So when do we get our own? When will you make one for us?’”
What draws SFB dancers—and audiences—to McGregor’s boundary-stretching style? “He transforms you into a creature, not a dancer,” Genshaft says. “If he asks you to do a tendu, it’s a tendu done in a way that travels through your whole body. There’s a mesmerizing intensity to his works.”
Tschaikovsky and Mr. B
New York City Ballet kicks off its winter season with a two-week Balanchine/Tschaikovsky celebration, featuring classics like “Diamonds” from Jewels, Serenade and Mozartiana. In keeping with the Tschaikovsky theme, Peter Martins will also present a premiere set to excerpts from Eugene Onegin.
The photo of Robert Fairchild, Tiler Peck and Damian Woetzel on page 16 of the August/September 2012 issue should have been credited to Caitlin Kakigi.