Call Board

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.

Latest Posts

Complexions Contemporary Ballet's Tatiana Melendez Proves There's No One Way to Have a Ballet Career

This is Pointe's Fall 2020 cover story. Click here to purchase this issue.

Talk to anyone about rising contemporary ballerina Tatiana Melendez, and one word is bound to come up repeatedly: "Fierce." And fair enough, that's a perfectly apt way to describe the 20-year-old's stage presence, her technical prowess and her determination to succeed. But don't make the mistake of assuming that fierceness is Melendez's only (or even her most noteworthy) quality. At the core of her dancing is a beautiful versatility. She's just as much at ease when etching pure classical lines as she is when boldly throwing herself off-balance.

"Selfish choreographer that I am, I want Tatiana to stay with Complexions for all time," says her boss Dwight Rhoden, Complexions Contemporary Ballet's co-artistic director and resident choreographer. "She has a theatricality about her: When the music comes on, she gets swept away." Not too shabby for someone who thought just a few years ago that maybe ballet wasn't for her.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

"My Plate Is Full": Sofiane Sylve on Her New Leadership Roles at Ballet San Antonio and Dresden Semperoper

Sofiane Sylve had huge plans for 2020: Departing her post as a principal dancer at San Francisco Ballet, she embarked on a multifaceted, bicontinental career as ballet master and principal dancer at Dresden Semperoper Ballett, and artistic advisor and school director at Ballet San Antonio—and then COVID-19 hit, sidelining performances and administrative plans at both companies. But ballet dancers are nothing if not resilient. In her new leadership roles, Sylve is determined to help shepherd ballet through this challenging time—and transform it for the better. Pointe caught up with her by phone while she was in Dresden.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

The Anatomy of Arabesque: Why Placement and Turnout Are Key to Achieving This Crucial Position

Audition for any school or company, and they'll likely ask for a photo in arabesque. The position not only reveals a great deal about a dancer's ability, but it is also a fundamental building block for more advanced movements, like penché or arabesque turn. Beyond technique, it can be the epitome of grace and elegance onstage, creating unforgettable images—just try to imagine Swan Lake or Balanchine's Serenade without an arabesque.

Yet many dancers are unsatisfied with their arabesque lines, and students frequently ask how to improve their extensions. (Social media posts of dancers with extreme flexibility don't help!) In an attempt to lift the back leg higher, dancers may sacrifice placement and unknowingly distort their position in the process. How can you improve the height of your back leg while maintaining proper placement and turnout? We talked to a few experts to better understand the science behind this step.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks