Cinderella by San Francisco Ballet

As part of the New York/Washington trip for History and Performing Arts, the group of sixty Bancroftians, headed by Mr Brennand and Ms Middleton, visited the iconic Kennedy Centre to see San Francisco Ballet’s Cinderella, a co-production with the Dutch National Ballet. Fairy tales have been and will always be a cornerstone of entertainment and have been visualised in a myriad of mediums. The Disney adaptations are perhaps the most famous; the 1950’s animated classic may be our door into the Perrault parable but the outstanding international company and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon have given new, modern twists to their production. Ballet is unparalleled for its storytelling ability - without use of song or words, the dancers have only their bodies to tell their tale. Frances Chung is outstanding in the titular role, with the development of her character clear throughout the three-hour, three-act epic. From the subservient, dreamy young girl to the empowered princess, Chung’s lyricism and fluidity kept the story moving.

It was not only the dancing that made the experience so engaging. The unsung heroes of the evening: set and lighting design, orchestra, costuming, all contributed hugely to make the show work. With more locations than the typical ballet, it was important that the minimal amount of set could suggest all manner of fantastical locations. One of the most original pieces of scenery was the tree that grew from the grave of Cinderella’s mother. It became its own character, ‘dancing’ through mechanics to show the progression of Cinderella’s journey. Lighting also helped to enhance the fairy tale feel; as designer Natasha Katz said, “You can’t have light without darkness”.

Music is rarely recognised for the crucial part it plays in underscoring a ballet production. As ballet moves more prominently into mainstream entertainment, its accompanying music will become more important to young viewers. Finding a way into a new, unfamiliar world by connecting with the auditory just as much as the visual will not only make ballet newcomers feel at home, but brings the ballet world into the twenty-first century, as Cinderella has done. The National Symphony Orchestra and the Washington National Opera created the perfect ensemble; by turns haunting and harrowing, then light and joyful.

Costuming added the final mystical touch to the production. Wheeldon’s Cinderella is loosely set in the nineteenth century, and most principal dancers wore costumes evoking this time; as with most fairy tales, the suggestion of this era served to heighten the romantic feel, andthe colours used played a large role in influencing the mood of the story. Fluid outfits in rich jewel tones showed the opulence of the palace, while pastel blue helped identify the classic heroine. There was one exception to the rule, in the dancers playing the seasons. Modern bodysuits in stark colours dehumanised the dancers and allowed the audience to see them as abstract figures.

In summation, ballet is by no means a dying art form. Cinderella, in all its pirouetting glory, shows that every art form can work together to make ballet the most immersing form of expression yet.