Diablo Ballet's Cinderella's Wedding Weds Traditional to Julia Adam's Unconventional
February 7, 2022—When Lauren Jonas, Artistic Director of Diablo Ballet, commissioned choreographer Julia Adam with setting a ballet on Cinderella's Wedding, Adam was confronted with a particular challenge. Known for creating works with an edge, she was faced with creating a family-friendly work set on a classic fairy tale. Adam's earlier piece, The Mycelial Nature of Things, has been described as a sensual rendition of Little Red Riding Hood and was performed before outdoor diners in a wooded grove in West Marin County.
Can we expect anything as unconventional for this fairy tale? "No," says Adam. "It was an interesting task for me to try to inject some cleverness and some whimsy in a very traditional way. That was my challenge. Mostly it was fun for me to play with that music, the Prokofiev score, and pick what worked in a 25-minute composition and get the fairy solos, and Cinderella's solos, and a prince solo, and a grand pas de deux." But at the same time, she had to try not to deviate too much from the familiar, classic story.
Adam's slight deviations include some interesting changes to the roles of the stepsisters and stepmother. The stepsisters have been replaced by stepbrothers, and the stepmother has her mind set on marrying the prince. "It's a little carryover of Mrs. Robinson, I suppose," she says with a laugh. Comically, the stepmother keeps throwing herself at the prince. "There's a little Julia Adam twist in there. It's light fare. I'm not making a big statement."
First performed by the Bolshoi Ballet in 1945, successive versions of Cinderella have been choreographed by Frederick Ashton, Ben Stevenson, and in 2013 Christopher Wheeldon set his unconventional Cinderella for San Francisco Ballet. Typically the wedding scene is an understated outdoor affair in a garden instead of in a grand ballroom as in many ballet wedding scenes.
So how did Adam visualize Cinderella's Wedding? "When you collaborate with an artistic director," Adam said, "they have certain boundaries they want. She (Lauren Jonas) wanted a grand ballroom feeling, so that's what we did. We've got a backdrop, chandelier, and so on. We're doing it in a more traditional type of setting instead of outdoors." But how does she convey the sense of a grand ballroom scene with a small ballet company? "Good question," says Adam. The ballet is set on the full company of fifteen dancers, using all the fairy characters and the prince's attendants as wedding guests. The fairies dance with mortals, using sweeping movements to fill the space of a ballroom. "And great lighting," says Adam with a laugh. Diablo's trainees and apprentices help to fill in the crowd of wedding guests.
As for ballet movements, "I'm a bit old school," says Adam. "Themes come back. Movements return." Movements must express physically what the music evokes emotionally. "That's something I always try to do." The movements must not only match the music, they must match the character. "You would imagine those characters moving like that," she explains.
Adam picked sections from the entire Prokofiev score, not just the wedding scene. For example, the music she applied for Cinderella's solo comes from Act One of the full-length ballet. "It's playful," says Adam. "She's doing classical steps, but there's a little swing in her hip, and the leg turns in and out to convey a playfulness about her." Similarly, rather than the classical tutu, Cinderella is dressed in a tulle. "The longer, romantic tutu," explains Adam, "because I felt that the Prokofiev music needs movement in it. It's so symphonic that we needed the tulle to be flying around, not just stiff. Hopefully, that conveys that she's playful."
Adam has worked with the Diablo dancers in previous productions and knows how best to cast them. "She (Lauren Jonas) has such a wonderful group of dancers," exclaims Adam, "I know them so well now, it was fun to put them where I wanted them." For instance, Adam describes Julia Meister, a new dancer with Diablo, as, "A wonderful dancer. She reminds me a little of Tina Le Blanc (former principal with San Francisco Ballet), how she's small and like a sprite, but with this fluidity. So I put her as the Spring Fairy because her speed and fluidity would illuminate that fairy. Each person that I put in," Adam explains, "definitely had parts of those characters inside of them."
Diablo Ballet's Cinderella's Wedding performs February 11 - 12, 2022 at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek. A recording of the live performance will be available for online viewing from February 18 through 27. For more information, see diabloballet.org.