Frances Chung, Principal Dancer, on Cinderella

Principal Dancer Frances Chung discusses Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella.

New mom Frances Chung shares her memories of the creation of Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella and talks about what makes this ballet so special. She also shares what it’s like to come back to the stage after having her first child.

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Header Image: Frances Chung in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© // © Erik Tomasson

Esteban Hernandez, Principal Dancer, on Cinderella

Principal Dancer Esteban Hernandez shares his story.

Recently promoted Principal Dancer Esteban Hernandez discusses his childhood, career, and the role of Benjamin in Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella with Caitlin Sims. He also shares about his work with his family in Mexico, sharing the joy of ballet through performances, classes, and auditions.

Like what you heard? Subscribe to our Meet the Artist podcast on Apple Podcasts to access archived episodes and have new ones delivered straight to your devices!

Header Image: Esteban Hernandez in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© // © Erik Tomasson

 

Misa Kuranaga, Principal Dancer, on Cinderella

Principal Dancer Misa Kuranaga talks about her path to San Francisco Ballet and the role of Cinderella.

New Principal Dancer Misa Kuranaga shares stories about her life, how she first came to San Francisco Ballet, and why she chose to return this year. She also gives insight into the character of Cinderella, both in Christopher Wheeldon and Frederick Ashton’s iconic versions.

Like what you heard? Subscribe to our Meet the Artist podcast on Apple Podcasts to access archived episodes and have new ones delivered straight to your devices!

Header Image: Misa Kuranaga and Angelo Greco in the pas de deux from Petipa’s Le Corsaire // © Erik Tomasson

Betsy Erickson, Ballet Master, on Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella

Host Andi Yannone interviews Ballet Master Betsy Erickson and discusses how Cinderella is rehearsed and put together.  In particular, they discuss the challenges of a trans-continental co-production during the initial creative process.

Like what you heard? Subscribe to our Meet the Artist podcast on Apple Podcasts to access archived episodes and have new ones delivered straight to your devices!

Header Image: Christopher Wheeldon during a dress rehearsal of Wheeldon’s Cinderella© // © Erik Tomasson

SF Ballet Production Staff on Cinderella

Members of the Production Staff discuss the demands of their positions as they “create the magic” of a fairy tale on stage. Jane Green, Production Stage Manager, describes the complexity of running this show; Kate Share, Manager of Wardrobe, Wig, Make-up, and Costume Construction, talks about the elaborate costumes and some of the difficulties the dancers encounter in accommodating them; Ken Ryan, Master of Properties, reveals the “secrets” behind the golden slipper so important to this story.

Like what you heard? Subscribe to our Meet the Artist podcast on Apple Podcasts to access archived episodes and have new ones delivered straight to your devices!

Header Image: Sasha de Sola in Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella // © Erik Tomasson

Meet Basil Twist

Basil Twist, a puppeteer, defines that term broadly—as bringing inanimate objects to life. His genius (and he has the receipts, earning a MacArthur Genius Grant in 2015) is noticing the way objects and materials move and flow, and drawing upon these characteristics to transform them. It takes a creative eye to realize, for example, that a swath of silk could billow into a carriage or that projections could animate a tree, making it wave and sway and seemingly “dance.”

Twist grew up in San Francisco, the child and grandchild of puppeteers. His mother founded a group of puppeteers who performed at hospitals and schools, and his maternal grandfather, Griff Williams, was a big band leader who included puppets that resembled Cab Calloway and Harry James in his shows. Twist made puppets as a kid, grew out of it in high school, returned to puppetry as a college student in New York City, and was admitted to the three-year program at France’s national school for puppeteers in Charleville-Mézières. He’s the only American to have graduated from the program.

Basil Twist (right) with his mother Lynn Twist and Daniel Brodie // © Drew Altizer
Basil Twist (right) with his mother Lynn Twist and Daniel Brodie // © Drew Altizer

Back in New York, his breakout work, Symphonie Fantastique, originated when he found a discarded fish tank. After repairing it, Twist experimented with the different ways fabric and other materials like feathers and bubbles moved in water. For the show, he upgraded to a 500-gallon tank and, similar to a choreographer, set abstract movement to music, in this case Berlioz’ symphony.

Twist’s career has since exploded, and extends from Broadway shows to the film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, on which he consulted for the underwater puppetry. On Broadway, Twist has contributed to Charlie and The Chocolate Factory; Oh, Hello; The Addams Family, for which he won a Drama Desk Award; and the Pee-wee Herman Show. Additional work includes The Araneidae Show, Dogugaeshi, Petrushka, Behind the Lid, Arias with a Twist, and Sister’s Follies, among others.

Symphonie Fantastique caught the eye of choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, and the two collaborated on Cinderella for San Francisco Ballet and Dutch National Ballet, The Winter’s Tale for the The Royal Ballet, and The Nutcracker for The Joffrey Ballet. In dance, Twist has also contributed to Darkness and Light with Pilobolus; Wonderboy with The Joe Goode Dance Company, Underground River with Jane Comfort & Company and Dorothy and the Prince of Oz, a Tulsa Ballet and BalletMet collaboration. His maverick Rite of Spring, a ballet without dancers, premiered in 2013 at UNC Chapel Hill and went on in 2014 at Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival.

Even with all of these credentials, the tree in Cinderella© has particular meaning for Twist. For this production he was tasked with developing the tree into a believable character in the ballet. Twist told SF Ballet program writer Cheryl Ossola that the mechanics weren’t difficult, but “you get to the moment when you’re choreographing for the tree, to the music, and you’re saying, ‘Now it makes this shape; now it’s that shape.’ You feel the tree as you would a dancer. That’s when it comes alive.

“This is maybe corny, but as a child I always used to go to [SF Ballet’s] Nutcracker,” he continues. “And the tree growing onstage … it’s one of the reasons I work in the theater. I so loved that moment.” Twist is thrilled, he says, to have “my own tree on the same stage.”


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Cinderella© by Christopher Wheeldon

Header image: San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© //
© Chris Hardy

In the Wings of Wheeldon’s Cinderella

In addition to the fairytale characters, Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella is filled with magical creatures, from Spirits of the Seasons who teach Cinderella to dance, to Tree Gnomes and Fates. Photographer Erik Tomasson captured many of the characters backstage, warming up, rehearsing, or just waiting for their cue—offering a close-up, behind-the-scenes at the quirky beauty of this production of Cinderella

WanTing Zhao and Steven Morse as the Spirits of Summer/Generosity backstage during Wheeldon's Cinderella© // © Erik Tomasson
WanTing Zhao and Steven Morse as the Spirits of Summer/Generosity backstage during Wheeldon’s Cinderella // © Erik Tomasson
Backstage during Wheeldon's Cinderella©. (© Erik Tomasson)
One of the Tree Gnomes waiting backstage during Wheeldon’s Cinderella©.
(© Erik Tomasson)
Backstage during Wheeldon's Cinderella©. (© Erik Tomasson)
Looking through the Queen’s collar and tiara during Wheeldon’s Cinderella©.
(© Erik Tomasson)
Dores André backstage during Wheeldon's Cinderella©. (© Erik Tomasson)
Dores André as the Spanish Princess backstage during Wheeldon’s Cinderella©.
(© Erik Tomasson)
San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon's Cinderella. (© Erik Tomasson)
San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s Cinderella, from the wings.
(© Erik Tomasson)
Backstage during Wheeldon's Cinderella©. (© Erik Tomasson)
SF Ballet performers waiting to go onstage to try on the golden slipper in Wheeldon’s Cinderella©.
(© Erik Tomasson)
Christopher Wheeldon onstage after a performance of Wheeldon's Cinderella©. (© Erik Tomasson)
Christopher Wheeldon onstage after the premiere of his Cinderella in 2013.
(© Erik Tomasson)


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Header image: WanTing Zhao backstage during Wheeldon’s Cinderella. (© Erik Tomasson)

Cinderella © Christopher Wheeldon

Female Characters in 2020 Story Ballets

Get to know this season’s complex, compelling heroines and the women bringing them to life.

From prima ballerinas to fairy princesses, female artists and characters have always had center stage in ballet. So much so that George Balanchine, the 20th century’s most influential choreographer, once said that “Ballet is woman.” But while women may get the balletic spotlight, their portrayals can sometimes seem out of step with the times.

Three of this season’s ballets celebrate famous female characters, but with a modern twist. Cinderella, Mrs. Robinson and Juliet originated in eras very different from our own, but the contemporary perspectives of our choreographers and dancers redefine them as thought-provoking, dynamic central figures in these works, saying goodbye to gendered stereotypes of eras past.    

Cinderella

Yuan Yuan Tan in Wheeldon's Cinderella©.
(© Erik Tomasson)
Yuan Yuan Tan in Wheeldon’s Cinderella©.
(© Erik Tomasson)
Frances Chung in Wheeldon's Cinderella©.
(© Erik Tomasson)
Frances Chung in Wheeldon’s Cinderella©.
(© Erik Tomasson)
Dores André and Carlo Di Lanno in in Wheeldon's Cinderella©.
(© Erik Tomasson)
Dores André and Carlo Di Lanno in in Wheeldon’s Cinderella©.
(© Erik Tomasson)

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Cinderella is synonymous with fairy tales, and her name has conjured dreams of castles, princes, pumpkins and romance since the 1600s, and legends about a poor, mistreated girl rescued by a male hero date back thousands of years. She was ready for a makeover in 2012, when Christopher Wheeldon created our vibrant production, which was co-commissioned with Dutch National Ballet. Instead of the traditional Cinderella, a girl who is abused by her family until she marries the prince who saves her, Wheeldon’s Cinderella is a modern young woman who navigates her own journey to happiness.

            “She’s not just a victim,” says Principal Dancer Dores André, who has performed the lead role since the ballet’s 2013 American premiere at the War Memorial Opera House. “She’s courageous, and she makes choices.” Wheeldon placed this Cinderella in the midst of a messy real life, and he took away the Fairy Godmother; Cinderella has to find her own way to cope with stepsisters who are both lovable and loathsome, and a stepmother with an alcohol problem. “The women in this ballet are not one-sided,” André adds. “Chris doesn’t create simple characters.”

Even Cinderella’s relationship with Prince Charming has unexpected depth, says Ballet Master Anita Paciotti. “You don’t just like these two because they’re good dancers,” she says, “you like them because they’re real with each other.” Rather than hoping a man will swoop in and sweep away her troubles, Cinderella claims her own power and meets him as an equal. As Paciotti says, “There’s a lot to see besides ‘Cinderella gets the prince.’”

Mrs. Robinson

Dores André and Lonnie Weeks rehearsing Cathy Marston's Mrs. Robinson // © Erik Tomasson
Dores André and Lonnie Weeks rehearsing Cathy Marston’s Mrs. Robinson // © Erik Tomasson
Mathilde Froustey and Benjamin Freemantle rehearsing Cathy Marston's Mrs. Robinson // © Erik Tomasson
Mathilde Froustey and Benjamin Freemantle rehearsing Cathy Marston’s Mrs. Robinson // © Erik Tomasson
Mathilde Froustey rehearsing Cathy Marston's Mrs. Robinson // © Erik Tomasson
Mathilde Froustey rehearsing Cathy Marston’s Mrs. Robinson // © Erik Tomasson

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Women’s liberation and the sexual revolution were only just beginning in 1967, when the iconic, Oscar-winning film The Graduate premiered. Based on the 1963 novella by Charles Webb, the film features Anne Bancroft as the dissatisfied forty-something housewife Mrs. Robinson and Dustin Hoffman as a 21-year-old college graduate she has an affair with. Mrs. Robinson is an icon of a less-equal era, and for this season’s commission, British choreographer Cathy Marston wanted to revisit the iconic character in light of the current culture.

            “What we feel now about Mrs. Robinson is radically different to the commentary in 1967,” says Marston. “That’s an interesting dialog to be having today.” In mid-20th-century America, few women were able to pursue careers and financial independence; the stereotypical housewives of the era were “doing chores, sitting and staring into space,” Marston observes. “But they’re beginning to realize that it’s not enough.”

            The 1960s may seem like a bygone age, but André, who co-created the lead role, sees parallels. “Mrs. Robinson doesn’t fit in,” she observes. “It’s this in-between position that I think a lot of people feel, where you’re trying to change but don’t know if you can.” Paciotti, who saw the movie in 1967, says that women still connect with Mrs. Robinson’s struggle. “She had been an art student, she had dreams of her own that never got fulfilled because she became a wife and mother. It’s completely relevant to the status of women today.”

            Marston imbued the ballet with the same emotional ambiguity and eroticism that made the film so compelling, but she steers the plot toward a more hopeful outcome. Yet ultimately, Mrs. Robinson’s future is in the eyes of each observer. “It’s up to you to understand what she is going to do,” André says. “It shows that feminism is a personal journey, and everyone will experience it for themselves. That’s how life actually is.”

Juliet

Mathilde Froustey and Joseph Walsh in Tomasson's Romeo & Juliet // © Erik Tomasson
Mathilde Froustey and Joseph Walsh in Tomasson’s Romeo & Juliet // © Erik Tomasson
Misa Kuranaga and Ricardo Bustamante in Tomasson's Romeo & Juliet // © Erik Tomasson
Misa Kuranaga and Ricardo Bustamante in Tomasson’s Romeo & Juliet // © Erik Tomasson
Misa Kuranaga in Tomasson's Romeo & Juliet // © Erik Tomasson
Misa Kuranaga in Tomasson’s Romeo & Juliet // © Erik Tomasson

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Juliet may be famous for loving Romeo, but Shakespeare’s tragic teenage heroine is far more than a hopeless romantic. “She’s a rebel,” says André. “She is questioning the status quo, and she is gonna fight against it.” Four centuries after the play’s 1596 publication, Juliet still embodies a woman’s odyssey toward standing up for her values, making her own choices and accepting the consequences.

             Juliet’s refusal to marry Paris, the suitor her parents have chosen for her, reflects both the depth of her commitment to Romeo and the power of love to vanquish the hatred between their warring families. “She’s not going to stop herself from loving him,” says Paciotti, who often plays the pivotal role of Juliet’s nurse. “This is somebody trying to break the habit of the older generation, someone whose sense of humanity compels them to say, ‘Enough. I don’t want to fight anymore.’”

Indeed, there’s nothing cookie-cutter about Juliet, and her complexity lets every ballerina approach her in a unique way. “What’s so amazing about Juliet is that she’s a feminist before her time,” says corps de ballet member Jasmine Jimison. Juliet is the first lead role Jimison—still a teenager herself—is taking on, and she’s kept an eye on other dancers’ performances. “All the Juliets have very different interpretations,” Jimison says. “I relate to Juliet being young and happy, and having her first love.”

Paciotti sees Juliet as a role model unbound by time, place and culture. “She’s gutsy, she’s defiant, she’s willing to risk herself to change the status quo,” she says. “People see a better way, and that’s what sets them apart. That’s what makes them heroes.”

Although they originated in different eras and different parts of the world, Cinderella, Mrs. Robinson and Juliet represent universal aspects of women’s experiences. And though the original stories were written by men, it is the female artists of San Francisco Ballet who will bring the characters to life on the Opera House stage, in contemporary and uniquely personal ways. Discover your own perspective by experiencing all three ballets—and all of these compelling women.


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Header image: Mathilde Froustey in Tomasson’s Romeo & Juliet // © Erik Tomasson

The Story of Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella

Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella* will be part of SF Ballet’s 2020 Season, with performances Jan 21–Feb 2.

ACT I

SCENE 1: GARDEN ESTATE

Young Cinderella is playing outside with her mother and father when suddenly her mother becomes ill. In terrifying rapidity, her mother is taken from her and Four Fates are left to watch over Cinderella, who weeps over her mother’s grave. A tree sprouts from her tears.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© // © Erik Tomasson

SCENE 2: ROYAL PALACE

The young Prince Guillaume and his friend Benjamin (the valet’s son) are pursued by Madame Mansard (the prince’s dancing mistress). They dash through the hallways of the palace, causing havoc. Suddenly King Albert and Queen Charlotte appear, stiff and formal. The king is appalled at Guillaume’s lack of discipline, but the queen is more forgiving. The boys dash off again into the garden.

SCENE 3: THE GRAVE

Cinderella, now older, brings flowers to her mother’s grave. Two girls, Clementine and Edwina, appear, followed by their mother Hortensia, on the arm of Cinderella’s father. Cinderella realizes that this is to be her new family. Hortensia hands Clementine a bouquet to present to Cinderella who, horrified on behalf of her dead mother, discards it. Her father insists that she take the flowers, but Cinderella hurls them at Hortensia’s feet. Cinderella’s father will not tolerate this behavior. Fueled by pride, Cinderella assumes a subservient attitude towards the women, thus sealing her own fate.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© //© Erik Tomasson

SCENE 4: ROYAL PALACE GALLERY

King Albert attempts to explain to his grown son the political connections to be gained by marrying a titled princess. Queen Charlotte writes invitations to an upcoming ball, where the prince will meet these prospective brides. Guillaume is distracted by Benjamin, who imitates the many foreign princesses in the portraits hanging on the walls. King Albert becomes enraged at his son’s lack of responsibility to his future kingdom, but Guillaume can’t believe his parents would force him into a loveless marriage. Albert insists the invitations be delivered in person by the prince himself. Guillaume and Benjamin hatch a plan to trade places, pretending to be one another.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© // © Chris Hardy

SCENE 5: CINDERELLA’S KITCHEN

Cinderella stoically serves her family breakfast. The briefest sign of tenderness towards Cinderella from her father is frowned upon by Hortensia. Edwina follows closely in her mother’s footsteps, gaining favors from her. Clementine, the sweeter stepsister, is bullied into following suit. A poor beggar arrives at the door seeking food and warmth. Taking pity, Cinderella brings him into the kitchen, but Hortensia, horrified, casts him out again. “The Prince” (Benjamin) appears at the door. He has discovered the poor beggar outside and insists that Hortensia provide him with food and warmth. Hortensia feigns concern and orders Cinderella to help the beggar. “The Prince” has come to deliver invitations to a ball where he shall choose his bride. Left alone with Cinderella, the beggar (Prince Guillaume in disguise) sees true kindness in this girl. The two pretend to be at the ball, laughing and dancing.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© // © Chris Hardy

SCENE 6: THE NIGHT OF THE BALL

Cinderella is cleaning the kitchen when the rest of her family appears, dressed for the ball. There was an invitation for Cinderella, but Hortensia throws it into the fire, and her family departs for the palace without Cinderella. The Fates, who have continued to watch over Cinderella, present her with her invitation and lead her to her mother’s grave.

SCENE 7: THE GRAVE

From the tree, spirits of Lightness, Fluidity, Generosity, and Mystery appear to teach Cinderella the steps she will need for the ball. Embraced by the branches, Cinderella is transformed and the Fates send her on her way to the ball — cryptically warning her to keep an eye on the time.

Frances Chung in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© // © Erik Tomasson

ACT II

SCENE 1: THE PALACE BALLROOM

The ball is underway when Cinderella’s family arrives. The king and queen witness the rather tipsy arrival of Prince Guillaume and Benjamin, neither in correct attire for such a formal occasion. Cinderella’s stepsisters still believe Benjamin to be the prince, giving the two young men another chance for deception. Guillaume finds he is uninterested in any of the eligible ladies, stepsisters included. A magical atmosphere fills the ballroom as a mysterious masked girl arrives. Guillaume is immediately drawn to her. Cinderella, recognizing Guillaume as the urchin, turns to flee, but is gently guided back to him by the Fates. The couple waltz together. Seeing the interest the prince shows in this mysterious beauty, Hortensia takes to the bottle, humiliating herself. Benjamin dances with Clementine, whom he likes. Guillaume and Cinderella dance, falling deeper in love. When Hortensia rips off Cinderella’s mask, it is time for her to flee. In the chaos caused by her sudden departure, she leaves behind one golden shoe. Guillaume vows to marry her.

Dores André and Carlo Di Lanno in in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© // © Erik Tomasson)

ACT III

SCENE 1: IN THE KINGDOM

Benjamin and Guillaume search for Cinderella, trying the shoe on every female foot they can find.

San Francisco Ballet waiting to try on shoes in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© //© Erik Tomasson

SCENE 2: CINDERELLA’S KITCHEN

Cinderella awakens, and with the help of the Fates, remembers her astonishing night at the palace. Hiding the other golden shoe on the mantelpiece, she resigns herself to her daily chores. Clementine tells Cinderella of the boy she met, and then Edwina turns suspicious when she spies Cinderella dancing steps from the ball. Hortensia viciously attacks Cinderella, and her father must step in. Unannounced, Benjamin and Guillaume arrive, exhausted from trying the shoe on so many feet. When the shoe does not fit either of the stepsisters, Hortensia throws it into the fire. Cinderella comes forward with the matching shoe: Prince Guillaume has found his princess. Cinderella and her prince leave the family behind. All is not lost for Clementine, however, as Benjamin returns to take her with him. And a royal wedding is held.

Dores André and Carlo Di Lanno in in Wheeldon’s Cinderella // © Erik Tomasson


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Header Image: Yuan Yuan Tan and Luke Ingham in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© // © Erik Tomasson

*Cinderella© by Christopher Wheeldon

Designing Cinderella’s Ball Gown

Designing and constructing costumes for dancers is a unique and challenging art. For Cinderella© Scenic and Costume Designer Julian Crouch, creating Cinderella’s ball gown was an exercise in restraint. “It has to move beautifully, and usually the way to do that is to take things away rather than add things,” says Crouch. “That was a new thing for me. . . . I was supported so well in that process, particularly by [Costume Supervisor] Oliver Haller. He taught me the fabric that would move properly on the human body.” Flexibility and durability are also extremely important for such a costume, so elasticated panels were added around the bodice to allow for a full range of movement by each of the ballerinas who will dance the role of Cinderella

Julian Crouch's costume sketch for Cinderella's ball gown // © Julian Crouch
Julian Crouch’s costume sketch for Cinderella’s ball gown // © Julian Crouch
Yuan Yuan Tan in Wheeldon's Cinderella©. (© Erik Tomasson)
Yuan Yuan Tan in Wheeldon’s Cinderella©.
(© Erik Tomasson)

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Cinderella’s “feathered” gold ball gown was actually created by photoshopping feather patterns onto a sheer fabric. “If I would have made the dress with real feathers like on [Crouch’s original] drawing, then you would have been able to wear it once and all those feathers would have been broken,” says Haller. “And now we have this beautiful dress with photographically printed feathers that looks—from a distance, it really looks like real feathers.”


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Header image: Yuan Yuan Tan in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© // © Erik Tomasson

Cinderella© by Christopher Wheeldon