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In Munich, Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella continues to confuse as a lot because it delights – Seen and Heard Worldwide

Germany Prokofiev, Cinderella: Dancers of Bayerisches Staatsballett, Bayerisches Staatsorchester / Gavin Sutherland (conductor). Nationaltheater, Munich, 13.11.2022. (JPr)

Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella (opening of Act III)

Choreography – Christopher Wheeldon
Libretto – Craig Lucas
Set design – Julian Crouch
Lighting – Natasha Katz
Video – Daniel Brodie

Cinderella – Madison Younger
Prince Guillaume – Julian MacKay
Stepmother Hortensia – Maria Chiara Bono
Stepsister Edwina – Elvina Ibraimova
Stepsister Clementine – Bianca Teixeira
Benjamin – Shale Wagman
Cinderella’s Father – Javier Amo
Cinderella’s Mom – Rhiannon Fairless
King Albert – Krzysztof Zawadzki
Queen Charlotte – Séverine Ferrolier
4 Fates – Nikita Kirbitov, Vladislav Kozlov, Sergio Navarro, Robin Strona
Solos – Ariel Merkuri (Summer season), António Casalinho (Autumn), Kristina Lind (Winter), Carollina Bastos (Spring)
Valet Alfred – Jeremy Rucker
Dance Mistress Madame Mansard – Polina Bualova

Christopher Wheeldon 2012 staging of Cinderella was first danced by the Bayerisches Staatsballett on 19 November 2021. I first noticed it when Dutch Nationwide Ballet visited London in 2015 and a few years in the past I noticed a recording of English Nationwide Ballet’s 2019 in-the-round model which they carried out on the Royal Albert Corridor. Over the thrice I’ve seen it my normal impressions stays a lot the identical, so I apologise upfront for repeating myself in what I’ve to say about Wheeldon’s Cinderella.

Graham Watts defined within the 2015 programme that ‘Though the preliminary impetus for the brand new ballet got here from San Francisco, Dutch Nationwide Ballet was quickly drafted in as co-producer … The libretto (developed by Craig Lucas) stems from Wheeldon’s love of the Brothers Grimm. “I all the time liked the darker, German interpretation with its concentrate on the demise of Cinderella’s mom and the stepmother’s subsequent corruption of the daddy”.’ It must be remembered how within the authentic Brothers Grimm model the stepsisters lower off elements of their toes to try to match into the glass slipper. Fortunately, nothing on this Cinderella is as grim as that, regardless of an try within the ultimate act to make the shoe – not glass in fact as a result of that is ballet – match on Stepsister Edwina’s foot by utilizing a mallet!

That one instance tells you all it’s worthwhile to find out about a large-scale manufacturing that bends over backwards – virtually actually contemplating Wheeldon’s gymnastic choreography – to be totally different in each approach from Sir Frederick Ashton’s 1948 well-known, deeply conventional and romantic choreography for Charles Perrault’s eponymous seventeenth-century fairy-tale. Each this one and Rudolf Nureyev’s 2011 Hollywood Cinderella for Paris Opera Ballet make extra sense of the acquainted story however maybe is probably not fairly a lot of a crowd-pleaser.

In Wheeldon’s Cinderella it’s Julian Crouch’s units and costumes, as properly a few of the slapstick comedy, you would possibly bear in mind lengthy after you may have forgotten the oddly incoherent story and the relatively over-familiar motion. I’m stunned nothing has been performed to type out the primary act which is just a little all over and should have many questioning how what we see has something to do with the Cinderella story they assume they know. It begins with Daniel Brodie’s video exhibiting us some white clouds and darting birds earlier than we see Cinderella’s mom (Rhiannon Fairless) succumbing to tuberculosis and there’s a wet graveside scene (with a touch of Kenneth MacMillan’s Mayerling). There we encounter for the primary time the 4 Fates – with gold-painted faces and blue and black costumes – who all through this Cinderella will information our heroine to her completely happy ending. They owe a lot to figures we see in Nureyev’s Romeo and Juliet and start by elevating Cinderella’s mom aloft like an angel. Evidently Cinderella’s tears trigger a sapling to sprout from the grave which is able to develop greater and greater and dominate some later scenes.

Wheeldon has already taken us briefly to the royal palace, the place Prince Guillaume is enjoying about with the butler’s son, Benjamin, and they’re going to stay lifelong mates. Guillaume appears initially extra all for his good friend than in his want for an appropriate fiancée and Benjamin mocks these he should select from. Invites should be handed out for a ball and Guillaume and Benjamin swop garments. We now get a glimpse of Cinderella serving meals to her stepmother (Hortensia) and stepsisters (Edwina and Clementine) and start to get an concept of how badly she is handled by them, Hortensia tries to journey Cinderella at one level and she or he is saved from falling by the Fates exhibiting they’re there to do extra than simply carry her aloft. Guillaume turns up as a tramp who Cinderella takes pity on with Benjamin there because the prince at hand out the invitations. Hortensia will throw Cinderella’s one into the fireplace. So Wheeldon has Guillaume – albeit in disguise – meet and dance with Cinderella within the first act and this makes what occurs later considerably nonsensical.

Cinderella is carried, seemingly asleep, to the tree the place the Fates name on the spirits of Spring, Summer season, Autumn and Winter who – together with some fantastical creatures (‘Large Head’, ‘Nut Head’, and ‘Chicken Girl’) – assist put together Cinderella for the ball. Wheeldon’s choreography right here is undoubtedly enticing – if not significantly creative – however does goes on too lengthy. Cinderella will get taken in by the tree’s trunk earlier than remerging in gold gown, with gold masks and lengthy flowing practice and being lifted on excessive on a ‘horse-drawn carriage’ which, in actuality, is simply 4 massive wheels and 4 figures with horse’s heads.

In any case this padding out of the primary act the ballet strikes pretty shortly to its conclusion as Cinderella and this model of Prince Charming affirm their love in a big duet in Act II and for all of the unfastened ends of the meandering narrative thread to be tied up once they have a climactic – and extra expressive – concluding one on the finish of Act III. There clearly has been no pumpkin and there can be no clock. Below an array of chandeliers within the palace there may be a lot floor-covering waltzing for the women and gents of the court docket. There’s enjoyable available watching Hortensia having fun with her drink just a little an excessive amount of and giving her husband (Javier Amo) the slip to chase after the champagne-proffering waiters. (Later within the second act she is proven with an almighty hangover and vomits into her breakfast bowl, although what this has this to do with the precise story I can’t be certain.) We additionally see the burgeoning love Benjamin has for the goofier of the 2 stepsisters, Clementine. The pas de deux for Guillaume and Cinderella is nice sufficient however there’s a complicated finish to the act with Hortensia ripping off Cinderella’s masks which has her operating off leaving a gold ballet shoe behind.

Act III begins with a gaggle of various characters sitting on chairs whereas the round-the-world music gallops alongside. Wheeldon has by no means but missed a possibility for an inexpensive snort whether or not it’s about Stepsister Edwina’s halitosis or unfastened morals, and right here there may be somebody with smelly toes, one other who’s ticklish, and a 3rd one lacking the mandatory leg! When there isn’t any one who the shoe matches, the chairs dance up on wires to border the kitchen. The Fates are nonetheless there, helping Cinderella with the home tasks as she remembers dancing on the ball. She discovers the second shoe and conceals it. Hortensia throws the one Guillaume brings with him into the fireplace, however the Fates intervene once more to hold Cinderella alongside to recuperate the one she hid. United ultimately Guillaume and Cinderella go to the magic tree for his or her marriage ceremony when in opposition to the backdrop of a starry blue sky Wheeldon has them emerge from a crowd of well-wishers, together with the king and queen, for a unusually low-key ending to his Cinderella.

Madison Younger as Cinderella and Julian MacKay as Prince Guillaume

The choreography – which I’ve considerably ignored in all my extravagance – entails lots of twirling for a well-drilled and dedicated corps de ballet, significantly as the women and gents of the court docket. While the principals usually get many lifts, in addition to strikes requiring break up legs, sweeping arms and deep spinal curves. There was an excessive amount of repetition within the motion and shaping and I longed often for one thing rather less showy and relatively extra nuanced. If not that, maybe somebody may have simply stood nonetheless every now and then. Prokofiev’s rating has some lovely melodies that may strongly remind listeners of his earlier – and extra important – music for Romeo and Juliet. It might enable for some extra lyrical dancing than Wheeldon generally permits. Although what an advocate it will get from the great Bayerisches Staatsorchester who do full justice – as heard by means of loudspeakers – to the musical accompaniment beneath Gavin Sutherland, from English Nationwide Ballet, who’s a peerless conductor of this repertoire.

The 2 American dancers within the main roles have been a delight to observe: Madison Younger (Cinderella) danced with a straightforward on the attention, pliable and faultless approach and displayed with dramatic conviction her character’s need to flee the drudgery of her present life and to seek out romance. Julian McKay isn’t given a lot to work with by Wheeldon however is as lithe and athletic as any lovelorn ballet prince should be and there appeared a real chemistry between him and Younger’s Cinderella. Shale Wagman danced Benjamin with confidence and fervour, while Maria Chiara Bono (Stepmother Hortensia), Elvina Ibraimova (Stepsister Edwina), Bianca Teixeira (Stepsister Clementine), good dancers although they undoubtedly have been of Wheeldon’s steps have been even higher in his bodily comedy.

Jim Pritchard



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