SF Ballet “Cinderella”
Tuesday, January 21, 2020
SF Opera House
Frances Chung joined the SF Ballet in 2001, became soloist in 2005 and was made principal dancer in 2019. Now, in the opening work of the 2020 season, Chung, as “Cinderella” in Christopher Wheeldon’s production, has achieved greatness.
Other dancers exude technical brilliance; some have dramatic ability and project ideas and emotions suitable to their role. Chung has accomplished a balance of skill (without the flashy ‘show-off’ display), dramatic depth and character interpretation that fascinates and intrigues the audience. It was truly drawn into her performances. Brava!
There are many compliments to be paid for this revival. “Cinderella” was produced at SF Ballet on May 3, 2013. (Chung portrayed the ‘near-sighted’ sister in that production!) It was originally premiered in Amsterdam by the Dutch National Ballet (that claim co-production still) on December 13, 2012.
The ‘stage-magic’ accomplished by Natasha Katz (Lighting), Julian Crouch(Scenic and Costume Design), and especially Basil Twist (Tree and Carriage Sequence Direction/Design) bring this “Cinderella” to the fairy tale status longed for by adults and children.
It all just doesn’t seem possible but there it is: the tree grows up and out; the carriage wheels appear and then take Cinderella to the ball; the chairs float up and frame the stage. To this stage-magic, add the roles of the four “Fates” who help Cinderella accomplish her personal magic. Max Cauthorne, Daniel Deivison-Olivera, Steven Morse and Alexander Renneff-Olson are sometimes seen and often un-seen, but accomplish the moments when transformation must happen. A particularly delightful moment occurs when the “Fates” slide Cinderella across the stage to grasp the slipper which will prove her as the bride-to-be.
Joseph Walsh as Prince Guilloume is an accomplished partner for Chung. Their sizes are compatible; therefore the lifts and balances are secure. Esteban Hernandez provides the comic and skilled, ‘friend’ of the Prince, who, by switching roles achieves his own romance. (The early childhood scene in the ballet, provides the backstory.)
Sarah Van Patten achieves the master acting award as the Stepmother. She is skilled and very funny, as are the step-sisters, Elizabeth Powell and Ellen Rose Hummel.
Wheeldon and librettist Craig Lucas chose to let the tree (which grows from Cinderella’s mother’s grave) substitute for the usual “fairy-godmother” character. Lucas says the tree is “a living thing that can embrace the action,” and Wheeldon chooses the Fates “who offer guidance and protection.” (SF Ballet program notes, pg.19)
The production is complete with almost all members of the SF Ballet company and school dancing as Spirits (Spring, Summer, Winter, Autumn), as elegant couriers at the ball and as tree gnomes, puppeteers, servants. “Cinderella” is a sumptuous dance production.
Three temping princesses (a faint, but funny echo of “Swan Lake”?) Madison Keesler, Russian, Isabella DeVivjo, Spanish and WanTing Zhao, Balinese, add to ethnic/romantic interest at the ball. But again and again it is Chung, as Cinderella, whose entrances, appearances and disappearances claim the Prince’s heart, as they do ours.
Martin West accomplishes wonders as he conducts the Prokofiev score with the SF Ballet orchestra.
(Chung will appear again as Cinderella on February 1, 2020 at 8 PM. Don’t miss this!)
Joanna G. Harris