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San Francisco Ballet’s enchanting “Cinderella”



San Francisco Ballet opened its captivating production of Cinderella this past weekend, showing again how deeply rooted folk and fairy tales reside in our hearts and minds. And how well suited ballet is to their imaginative expression.

This version of the ballet was a collaborative effort between SF Ballet and the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam, where it premiered in 2012. Christopher Wheeldon developed the ballet’s delightful choreography while moving back and forth between the two companies and their dancers, with some of the dancers moving between cities and companies as well. This meant the usual practice of setting a piece of choreography on a particular dancer, and thereby using and highlighting their strengths, was disrupted. But perhaps a subtler effect is in play, creating a choreography that is more danceable, more various and more encompassing. Within it Wheeldon never overlooks the power of the simple, small gesture.

Like many storybook ballets, there is a lot of theatrical action – dance that borders on mime and gesture. Pure movement is not the ballet’s central feature. But the storytelling brought out a comedic streak in Wheeldon, especially in his portrayal of the two stepsisters, who are not ugly but rather vain and silly, and in the backstory of the prince, who, with his playmate Benjamin, is a bit of a bad boy – rambunctious, rebellious and clever.

Joseph Walsh danced Prince Guillaume in the first-night performance, adding another feather to his increasingly well-decorated cap. He is simply a wonderful dancer and performer. His good-hearted companion was danced by Taras Domitro, and their roles showcased the athleticism and dramatic skills of the two dancers as they strove, like young best buddies do, to outdo each other in rascally pursuits. 

Sasha De Sola and Ellen Rose Hummel were the stepsisters, and they were clearly having a great time being bratty girls. And Jennifer Stahl was thrilling as the wicked stepmother, who in drunken despair at the ball, when she realized that Cinderella has enraptured the Prince, she performed a careening solo and duet with a series of wine glasses and Cinderella’s father, Rubén Martín Cinta.

Frances Chung danced Cinderella, moving deftly from despairing to compassionate to enchanting. Cinderella’s first solo, danced at the graveside of her mother, is arguably the most original and beautiful piece of choreography in the ballet. And Chung’s performance was exquisite. It’s a joy to see this dazzling allegro dancer perform such lyrical and tender choreography, revealing her versatility and skill.

Enhancing everything is the production itself, with a smart and psychologically sophisticated libretto by Craig Lucas and scenic and costume design by Julian Crouch, lighting by Natasha Katz. Both story and presentation are dreamlike in their use of subtlety, colors and moonlight. When everyone dashes off to the ball, Cinderella’s world is transformed to that of her mother’s graveside, where stars reel in the sky above, illuminating the immense tree that has grown over her mother’s grave – a symbol of her mother’s presence and eternal love.

While the tree’s surfaces reflect the changing of the season, from the vivid greens of spring, through the warm yellows and oranges of summer and fall, resting at last in the blue of winter, sprites and gnomes appear to Cinderella to teach her to dance, so that she can attend Prince Guilliame’s ball.

Each season is represented by a quintet, and each of their brightly colored costumes represents an emotional quality – Lightness, Generosity, Mystery and Fluidity. The dance they teach Cinderella is the dance of Life. And all of nature joins in. Egrets and odd gnomish beings gambol across the stage, guided by the wonderful music of Prokofiev, beautifully performed by the orchestra under the direction of Martin West.

Finally, Cinderella disappears into the tree, wrapped in the ropes of its bark and branches, reappearing moments later transformed and ethereal in a knee-length dress covered in patterns of pheasant feathers. Ready for the ball, ready to seize the love of her Prince and ours.

– Jaime Robles 


San Francisco Ballet’s performance of Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella continues through May 7. For information and tickets, visit

Photo: Frances Chung as Cinderella. Photo by Erik Tomasson.



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