San Francisco Ballet Working Rehearsal

The Story

Who's Who

Cinderella a young maiden whose mother has died and whose father has remarried
Hortensia stepmother to Cinderella; mother of Clementine and Edwina
Clementine not-so-mean stepsister to Cinderella
Edwina mean stepsister to Cinderella
Guillaume a prince
Benjamin valet’s son and Guillaume’s best friend
King Albert Guillaume’s father
Queen Charlotte Guillaume’s mother
The Four Fates spirits that protect Cinderella known as Lightness, Fluidity, Generosity, and Mystery

So, What's Going On?

Okay, you know the story…it’s the well-loved fairy tale about an unlikely princess. Cinderella’s mom dies when she’s young, and her dad remarries a mean stepmother with two daughters. They treat Cinderella like a servant, generally making her life miserable. Sounds familiar, right? But this ballet takes a twist after that. In this version, the prince isn’t just a handsome face with a shoe obsession. He’s a fun-loving fellow named Guillaume (pronounced GEE-yohm) with a best buddy, Benjamin. The prince and Benjamin decide to play a prank: They swap identities when they deliver invitations to a ball, fooling all the eligible ladies in the land into thinking Benjamin is the “royal one.”

But here’s the kicker: This Cinderella doesn’t have a fairy godmother, or pumpkin coach, or friendly mice to help her get to the ball after her mean stepmother throws her invitation in the fire. Instead, she’s visited by four spirits from the grave of her deceased mother, where a magnificent, magical tree has now grown.

The spirits teach Cinderella how to dance and help her make her way to the ball in a mysterious mask. She shines as much as her beautiful gown as she dances with Guillaume, unaware he is the real prince. As they begin to fall in love, so do Benjamin and the nice stepsister (turns out one of them isn’t evil at all).

And what about that wicked stepmom? She stumbles over to Cinderella ripping off her mask. Cinderella flees, leaving behind one golden shoe. Eventually, Guillaume finds Cinderella after looking at a whole lot of feet. All ends well like in the fairy tale, but with two weddings this time, instead of one!

Think About...

Check This Out...

  • The tree that grows from the grave of Cinderella’s mother is much more than your average piece of scenery. Award-winning puppeteer Basil Twist created this magical, moving tree and as it matures into a gigantic puppet, it becomes another character in the story.
  • A horse-drawn carriage that takes Cinderella to the ball. Dancers move the puppets and props, creating one of the most visually stunning moments in the ballet.
  • Projected images that add atmosphere to the set. At the beginning of Act I, Scene I, birds fly across the sky representing a time in the past when Cinderella’s mother was alive. Later, clouds drift by and storms threaten the scene signaling a change in the action.

Think About This...

  • How the costumes must fit the character while allowing them to dance freely. Costume designers wanted Cinderella’s ball gown to look like a skirt of feathers, but knew that real feathers would break easily in performance. They solved this problem by using new technology to print a feather design ontulle (TOOL)—a thin, fine, machine-made net of acetate, nylon, rayon, or silk fabric generally used in tutus or ballet skirts. This kind of printing couldn’t have been done even a few years ago.
  • How humor is incorporated into the story. When the stepsisters dance at the ball they try to outdo one another with impressive moves that end up being more than a bit embarrassing. During the performance, look for other funny moments.
  • Differences in this Cinderella from the familiar fairy tale. There are two classic versions of the story. The first, and more well-known, is called Cindrillon, published by Charles Perrault in 1697 in the book The Tales of Mother Goose. This is the version Disney used as inspiration for their animated film, with the familiar fairy godmother, pumpkin coach, and glass slipper.
  • A second version called Ashenputtel, was written in German by the Brothers Grimm in 1812. It is this version that caught the attention of choreographer Christopher Wheeldon who wanted a story with more depth, if a bit darker. Wheeldon makes Cinderella more active in changing her circumstances. For example, she plants the branch on her mother’s grave that grows into a magical tree, watered by her tears.

Take Action: If The Shoe Fits

Not everyone has been trained as a dancer, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to express ourselves through movement. Watch for how the dancers express emotions like anger, surprise, or affection through actions instead of words.

With a friend or on your own, imagine that you have to communicate to someone that you’d like them to sit down and try on a shoe. Can you do that through movement without any words? What if the shoe doesn’t fit? What if it does?

Take a video of your mini dance and post it to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat, or any platform of your choice. Tag five friends and ask them to do the same. Use #iftheshoefits as your hashtag.


N00b Guide to Ballet

Clueless about ballet? We’ve got you covered.

(If you’re already a ballet fan, skip this and move on to the next section.)

Ever wonder how ballet began? Well…vive la France!

Dancing was entertainment in the royal courts of Italy and France, and was largely about telling tales of gods and heroes from mythology. But when the French King Louis XIV came along in 1643, he took court dancing to a whole new level. He loved to dance so much that he took lessons every day, starred in many productions, and started a ballet school. That’s why the steps ballet students learn are in French.

Then, as now, all things French were fashionable. Ballet schools based on the French model sprang up all across Europe in the 1700s. Choreographers began exploring ballets that told stories including tales of princes and princesses, foreign countries, and romantic entanglements. Moreover, as ballet dancing became more skilled and complex, costuming changed. Gone were the long, courtly gowns and heeled shoes. Dancers needed shorter skirts to allow them to better move. Soft slippers enabled dancers to jump and turn, ultimately leading to the pointe shoe, a slipper with a stiff box in the toe that we see ballerinas wear today. This specialized shoe allows women to stand up on their toes en pointe, making them look taller, and their legs look that much longer.

Wait…what about the Russians?

Peter the Great, who ruled Russia from 1672–1725, appreciated all the latest fads and fashions from Western Europe. He invited dance masters from France and Italy to teach Russian nobility how to “get down,” ballet style, on the dance floor. Marius Petipa, offsite link, (PET-ee-pah), a French dancer, was appointed ballet master at the Mariinsky Theater in in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1871. Many of the famous ballets known today were created by Petipa during his tenure there, including Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, and The Nutcracker. Petipa trained Russian-born dancers for his ballets instead of importing talent from foreign countries. His fame as a choreographer and his emphasis on Russian dancers helped establish a strong tradition of ballet in Russia that continues to this day.

Story ballets created by Petipa and others during the late 1800s were spectacles. They included large casts and lots of breaks in the action to showcase dancing. Since then, ballet has continued to evolve. Some later choreographers have scrapped Petipa’s emphasis on spectacle and story for simpler, more abstract ballets.George Balanchine, offsite link, (BAL-uhn-cheen), a famous Russian-born choreographer who came to America in 1933, favored abstract ballets that were more about movement than telling a story. He was instrumental in establishing the New York City Ballet.

Ballet may have started out as entertainment for aristocrats and mainly performed by men, but it has clearly changed since its early days. Today, ballet is performed for everyone (think The Nutcracker) and has a majority of female performers, including the star, or prima ballerina.

Want to learn more about theater and what it can do? Check out these links:

History of Ballet
For a good history of ballet and the rise of the ballerina

Petipa and Ballet
For more info on the choreographer and Russian ballet history

Fancy Feet
Ballet is built on a specific set of body positions and movements designed to make the dancer appear graceful and elegant. Learn more about the ballet positions and steps, and try them out yourself.

Or visit our Related Resources (to the right of this page)


Nerd Guide to Ballet

(If you don't have your ballet basics down, grand jeté over to our n00b guide.)

Looking to learn more about the world of ballet? Maybe take your first steps toward a career on stage? Here are a few tips to get you started.

Professional dancers often say they had no other choice than to become dancers; there was nothing else they wanted to do. You have to have serious drive and dedication to seek a career as a ballet dancer, since it requires long hours of rehearsal (think Olympic athlete) and years of devotion to possess the level of skill that ballet dancers must bring to the stage. Even with all that, there’s no guarantee you’ll make it into a company, because they are so competitive. So what can you do to move forward, if you gotta dance?

  • Take classes. There is no substitute for being in the dance studio. Find a dance class in your area, and start talking to your teacher and other students about opportunities to perform or to help out backstage. The more experience you get, the more you’ll know about all aspects of a dance production.
  • Read up on dance. You may want to get magazines dedicated to the young dancer, or read some autobiographies about being a prima ballerina to get a feeling for what the life of a dancer is really like.
  • Hit social media/go online. You can find a lot online about dance companies, choreographers, dancers, and the works they perform. Famous dancers often have social media sites where you can follow them and even get advice. Do some digging and get better informed.
  • Look ahead. If you’re getting ready for college, think about attending a school that has a good dance program. There are many ways to be involved in dance that aren’t all about performing. You may decide teaching dance is your thing, or you may decide that helping to manage a dance company would be cool. You may even choose to write about dance.

If you’re already advanced in ballet, you can learn more about the professional world of dance through the Kennedy Center’s career-oriented programs:

The Kennedy Center Ballet Class Series
This series gives local advanced high school students the opportunity to study with each of the major ballet companies performing at the Kennedy Center each a season.

Exploring Ballet With Suzanne Farrell
Each summer, students from around the country come to the nation’s capital to for three weeks of intense study with one of the most important ballerinas of the 20th century.

Or visit our Related Resource (to the right of this page)

Adult Guide

OCT 26 | Working Rehearsal
San Francisco Ballet
Choreography by Christopher Wheeldon
Music by Sergei Prokofiev

Parents and Teachers: We've Got You Covered

Cinnderella: A Story Told Many Times

Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s production of Cinderella© is not the first ballet of that name. The very first ballerina to leave her shoe behind at the ball was performed in Moscow by the Bolshoi Ballet in 1945. She danced to the same music by Prokofiev but with choreography by Rotislav Zakharov. Since then, several versions have been created. The first to be seen in America was in 1964 in New York City with the Kirov Ballet.

Maybe you or your child has studied ballet for years or maybe you’ve recently been bitten by the ballet bug and want more information, especially about the company, choreographer, and composer. Here are some sites that will help your search:

San Francisco Ballet
Learn more about San Francisco Ballet, the oldest ballet company (1933) in the United States

San Francisco Ballet YouTube Channel
Start with “Instant Expert: Cinderella” for an overview of the performance and move on to learn about the choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and the creative team that makes the story come alive on stage

Christopher Wheeldon

Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon is a rising star in the ballet world. Born in England, he trained at the Royal School of Ballet and later joined the company. In 1993, he started dancing with the New York City Ballet where he was promoted to soloist five years later. He began choreographing while at NYCB, and became resident choreographer for the company in 2001. Wheeldon founded his own dance company called Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company in 2007, and continues to create works for various ballet companies all over the globe, including this production of Cinderella, for the San Francisco Ballet and the Dutch National Ballet. He also won a Tony® Award for Best Choreography for the Broadway production of An American in Paris in 2015.

Prokofiev And His Music

In 1941, after the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev (SIR-gay pro-KOFF-ee-ef) and other important cultural figures were ordered by Soviet leader Josef Stalin to leave Moscow for safer areas. When Prokofiev moved to Alma Ata, Kazakhstan, he left behind his wife of 14 years and their two children. To Prokofiev, Cinderella was more than a fairy tale character. He saw her as “a real person, feeling, experiencing, and moving among us.” Christopher Wheeldon revealed that he felt the same about her while choreographing the ballet.

Okay, you’re officially ready for San Francisco’s Ballet’s Cinderella.




Editors & Producers

Lisa Resnick
Content Editor

Kenny Neal
Manager, Digital Education Resources

Support for Ballet at the Kennedy Center is generously provided by Elizabeth and Michael Kojaian.

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