December 22 & 23, 2018
Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella, premiered in 2012, returns as this year’s Christmas entertainment for the Dutch National Ballet. It fits the bill to perfection: a familiar narrative enhanced with an imaginative backstory and plenty of detail, a slew of fine dance roles, plenty of beautiful costumes and some truly magical effects. Seeing two casts highlighted how the play of the different personalities gives fresh shape to the story at each viewing.
This is Cinderella’s ballet, offering an outstanding ballerina role that traces a fairy-tale path from unhappy child to radiant bride. She is a believable character, resourceful and brave with a playful spirit that Wheeldon translates into fine choreography. The dramatic moments present her as an unconventional heroine, feisty and never just a vacuous beauty. By comparison the role of the Prince is somewhat predictable. Graduating rather suddenly from spoilt brat to noble Prince, he faces strong competition from friend Benjamin, an engaging character who embarks on his own unusual love quest and gets plenty of good dance opportunities along the way.
The differing strengths were obvious when seeing Remi Wörtmeyer, who created the role of Benjamin, take on the role of Prince Guillaume where he has every opportunity to display his brilliant technique but rather less chance to engage with the audience or use his dramatic skills.
Anna Ol as his Cinderella has the fragility of a butterfly but with a core of steel. A most unlikely kitchen skivvy, she takes her rightful place at the ball making the most of Wheeldon’s quirky solo that ends with her literally flying high. Wörtmeyer, too, has a spectacular solo to challenge his virtuosity.
Sho Yamada displayed great enjoyment in the role of Benjamin, teaming up with Clementine, the sweeter stepsister (Riho Sakamoto), in a hugely entertaining, high-speed comedy duo.
On December 23, Maia Makhateli and Artur Shesterikov took the lead roles. Two technicians of classical purity, they were a joy to watch, beautifully matched and moving with ease and grace. They expertly incorporated the contemporary twists that Wheeldon gives to his ballet choreography and entered fully into the romance of the roles. Edo Wijnen, was excellent value as the cheerful Benjamin, well matched with Milena Sidorova as bespectacled, Clementine.
The humour abounds; from the cruel comedy of national stereotypes when the Prince meets prospective brides, full-on panto laughs with the two sisters and the highpoint reached in a memorable solo for the stepmother. It’s a wickedly difficult pointe solo as the haughty Hortensia, balancing several champagne glasses, dances with the nonchalance of the habitually drunk. Vera Tsyganova and Emanouela Merdjamova danced on 22nd and 23rd respectively, each bringing an individual touch to the comedy.
Cinderella is accompanied from her childhood by four figures of Fate. Danced in both performances by the best of the rising talent in the male ranks, they offer a clever dramatic and choreographic ploy. Invisible helpers in the kitchen and at the ball, they also play a valuable role to induct her transformation in preparation for the ball. The climax comes as they don masks to become rearing horses drawing Cinderella’s coach as she is held aloft in a cloud of golden silk in one of the most spectacular stage visions ever.
Basil Twist’s imaginative coach is matched by his spectacular tree, a magical mass of green foliage and also by Julian Crouch’s fantasy creatures of the forest. If the Seasons are somewhat overshadowed by the scenic effects, Aya Okumura is outstanding in her Spring solo. The ensemble plays an important part: the impatient queue to try on the golden slipper is another comic opportunity as there seems no end to optimistic hopefuls. The corps also augment the wedding party, add to the seasons and enliven the ballroom in a blaze of blue and violet silks lit by scores of candelabras. This is a production to drive away the gloom of grey December.
English National Ballet will perform a specially adapted version of Wheeldon’s Cinderella at the Royal Albert Hall in London from June 6-16, 2019. Visit www.royalalberthall.com for details and tickets.