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Lauren Smiley | Photo: Courtesy of the San Francisco Ballet | May 1, 2013
"There’s no pumpkin, no mice, no fairy godmother,” says San Francisco Ballet’s Technical Director, Christopher Dennis, about the spectacular new Cinderella that crowns the company’s 2013 season.
In this retelling, a co-production with the Dutch National Ballet that is making its U.S. premiere, “anything you know about Cinderella and Disney doesn’t exist.” What you get, instead, is a reworking of the classic French version, injected with some Brothers Grimm elements—plus sumptuous new costumes and inventive sets. Goodbye, insipid; hello, stunning.
Instead of hauling a horse and carriage onto the stage, San Francisco native and puppeteer Basil Twist created a human-powered illusion more War Horse than Mister Ed. “He spent a great deal of time in rehearsal with cardboard and scissors, tape and glue—really basic materials—and evolved the type of magic you’ll see onstage,” Dennis says.
A Feisty Heroine:
“This Cinderella is less passive than those in other productions," Dennis says. "If she had a voice, she’d speak her mind.”
A Giving Tree:
The focal point of Cinderella’s transformation is an animated tree that emerges from her mother’s grave and grows bigger and stronger throughout the performance. Dennis describes it as “the centerpiece, the anchor” of the production.
Much of Cinderella takes place in ballgowns and under chandeliers. But there are also spirits and fates that guide (and lift) an unwitting Cinderella through the story, for which costume designer Julian Crouch needed an otherworldly look. “A spirit is a spirit. There’s no ‘I saw a spirit the other day, and it was wearing Seven jeans,’” Dennis jokes. “The spirits need to seem magical, from a fantasy world.”
Lights, Camera, Action:
Video projections are a key part of every scene. “You’ll notice it at times," Dennis says, "but it’s not like, ‘oh, now we’re going to watch the video.’”
Cindarella runs May 3-12. sfballet.org
Originally published in the May issue of San Francisco