David Wilcox: Ballet Dreams
The Classical Ballet of Guangzhou, China, will be performing at the Terrace Theater on October 27th and 28th. Their Saturday matinee program will include excerpts from Sleeping Beauty and Paquita, as well as contemporary Chinese works including Natural Melody, and the symphonic ballet, The Phoenix. Evening performances on Saturday and Sunday will feature Cinderella, with original choreography and musical arrangements by Long Beach Ballet Artistic Director David Wilcox.
In 1997, Wilcox was invited to take his company to Taiwan to tour for three weeks with their production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. It was such a success that they were invited back for a five week tour in 1998.
"The director of the Guangzhou Ballet saw us," Wilcox explained, "and asked for me to set my production of The Nutcracker on her company in 1999. I did, and further, brought them to Los Angeles that year for their very first international tour. It was such a big success that they have asked me back an additional two times to stage new ballets for them: La Bayadere in 2003, and Cinderella in 2006. Both have been successes for them, and they perform them all the time throughout Asia, and all over the world. So, now they love me and they help us with our annual three-week performance tour through China in the summer, in which I take 50 ballet students from around the country for our 'summer intensive.'"
Prokofiev's Cinderella is a beloved ballet favorite, but Wilcox had always felt that Prokofiev's score didn't fit the story.
"It is such a wonderful, family-oriented fantasy story of love and rags to riches. I had always wanted to create a Cinderella with a different score so, when the director of the Guangzhou Ballet asked me to do another ballet, I jumped at the chance to give it a try.
"I spent months looking for music. It was important that it was all one composer, and that it was music written for ballet. At the time that I was putting the ballet together in 2005, Leo Delibes' Sylvia had not been performed for decades (except that it was just being revived by the Royal Ballet). I decided to rearrange that score to suit the story of Cinderella. It gave me a lot of freedom to come up with a story that was very 'audience friendly,' in that I could tell aspects of the story that had never been part of the traditional Cinderella as dictated by Prokofive.
"My goal, when I stage a story ballet, is to create a work that the audience can understand as they watch. I think if they have to read the program to figure out the story, then I have failed. When I did La Bayadere for the Guangzhou Ballet in 2003, I re-worked the ballet by condensing four acts down into two acts, took out some superfluous elements, and told the story in a much clearer way. That ballet has now been been performed more throughout China than any other full length ballet by any company.
"Though the opening of Cinderella starts out with a dramatic, somewhat violent, scene of Cinderella being mistreated, she soon falls asleep and dreams of her past. During this dream, we see her standing with her father at her mother's grave site when she is about five. The scene jumps to her playing with her father when she is about 10. He laments the loss of his wife by looking at a portrait of her over the mantle, then a woman (her future stepmother) comes in with her young daughters and we see the first mistreatment of Cinderella. When she awakens from her dream, it is clear to the audience how this poor girl dressed in rags got into the situation she is now in, because she fell asleep holding the portrait of her father that was along side the one of her mother that is in her dream."
In addition to reworking the music and, thus, the story, Wilcox also created completely new choreography for the ballet.
"Keep in mind that Cinderella almost always has new choreography because there is no traditional version, like there is of Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and Nutcracker. Mine is more different than most because I wasn't forced by Prokofiev—who I love, by the way—into the up-til-now traditional scene allocation, which severely limits the choreographer's ability to tell the story."
Ballet has a unique benefit to cross-cultural collaboration, in that it is not dependent upon verbal communication to convey its meaning to an audience, and can transcend cultural boundaries.
"The Guangzhou Ballet, in particular, has created many wonderful ballets, three of which they will perform in Long Beach. All three: Butterfly Lovers, Yellow River and Human Sentiment, are ballets as you describe. Return of a Snowy Night is the full-length ballet that got them the Best Ballet award in China last year, and it is spectacular.
"What's wonderful about ballet, like western classical music, is its universal appeal. Almost all movies now use western style classical music for the scores, even Chinese movies. The language of classical ballet is based on our sub-conscious desire to see human movement as effortless and ethereal. The origin of ballet is story-telling. When you put those two elements together, you have an an art form that any culture can appreciate.
"The dancers of the Guangzhou Balletare unrivaled. Absolutely exquisite. Also, Cinderella has magic, special effects and comedy. Dan Dan Zhang, the director, called me into her office after the premiere to tell me that the Guangzhou Minister of Culture called her to say that, in three years of sitting through theatrical premieres as part of his duties, this was the first time that he thoroughly enjoyed one."
For tickets, and more information about the Guangzhou Ballet, visit GuangzhouBallet.org
To learn more about the Long Beach Ballet, including their annual holiday performances of The Nutcracker, visit LongBeachBallet.com.