While the story of Cinderella is very familiar, this season’s opener — a co-production of the San Francisco Ballet and the Dutch National Ballet — is anything but.
Choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, with a libretto by Craig Lucas, this “Cinderella” is visually spectacular. Borrowing from the darker Grimm Brothers telling, the production has done away with the kind-hearted fairy godmother and the pumpkin-into-carriage transformation.
Instead, the grave of Cinderella’s deceased mother — whose death occurs in the episodic prologue — and the enormous tree which grows from it, loom over the production, seemingly directing its course.
In place of the Disney devices, there are four masked, blue-clad figures, “fates” who give Cinderella an unearthly power to transcend, both literally and metaphorically.
In an early scene where Cinderella is a serving woman to her new stepfamily (including Sarah Van Patten as the superbly drawn stepmother whose evil is tempered by her comic fallibility), the fates lift her onto the table, where she reigns nobly, looking down on those she is serving.
The four — with the help of the “spirits” of fluidity, lightness, generosity and mystery — teach Cinderella to dance and
transform her from a scullery maid to a dazzling — in the literal sense, in Julian Crouch’s costume — guest at the royal ball, where Cinderella’s presence mesmerizes all in attendance.
The fates also oversee the construction of the coach, a visual image of puppeteer Basil Twist’s that is as ethereal as it is compelling. In each of these scenes, Sasha De Sola is a Cinderella who embodies the fluidity and lightness in which she has been schooled, as well as the generosity and mystery that ennoble her.
The tree grows to magnificent size and sways and dances in response to Sergei Prokofiev’s music, a stunning image produced by Twist of the natural order that rewards the virtuous and even accepts the haughty and narrow-minded stepfamily into its fold. At the prelude to the ball, a number of chandeliers rise to the rafters of the ballroom in a beautifully conceived moment.
The post-ball action is center on the prince’s search for Cinderella. The production uses a long line of chairs and would-be princesses — many incongruous figures — to suggest the frustration of the search. After the line of chairs forms an arc over the kitchen where Cinderella’s identity is discovered, the frantic world inhabited by her and her prince slips away and de Sola and Luke Ingham as Prince Guillaume dance the harmonious end to a spirited story.
“Cinderella” runs through this weekend, with performances at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Feb. 1 and 2 p.m. Feb. 2 at the War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco; 415-865-2000; www.sfballet.org.