the prince will come. Complete with a broom, seasonal fairies, stars, a pumpkin-esque coach, a grand ball and bumbling sisters en travesti, the classic Perrault-based fairy tale, Cinderella comes to the Chicago stage this week via The Joffrey Ballet. In a nine-performance run at The Auditorium Theatre, the local troupe has the honor of performing Sir Frederick Ashton’s original choreography that tells the tale of a down-trodden maiden and her luck (with a little help from her Fairy Godmother) finding that ever-elusive perfect-fitting shoe and discovers her true love attached to the other end.
Premiering at the Sadler’s Wells Ballet of London in 1948, the evening-length ballet was set to a new Prokofiev score. The Joffrey was the first American company to perform Ashton’s Cinderella (in 2006) and retains the exclusive rights. Along with that comes Wendy Ellis Somes, owner and custodian of the ballet. Ms. Somes inherited the rights from her late husband Michael Somes — protege to Ashton, former Assistant Director of the Royal Ballet, danseur noble and Cinderella’s original prince.
Her long career with the Royal Ballet included such prestigious roles as Juliet, Aurora, Titania and Sir Kenneth MacMillan created for her the roles of Princess Stephanie in Mayerling and a role in Gloria. Ms. Somes, who has been in Chicago since January working with the dancers, was kind enough to take a few moments before rehearsal to talk with us.
Rogue Ballerina: You had a 21-year career with the Royal Ballet.
Wendy Ellis Somes: From 1969 – 1990.
RB: That’s amazing.
WES: I suppose. People tend to stop earlier now days.
RB: Were you ever Cinderella?
WES: Oh yes. I played Cinderella a lot.
RB: What was it like working with Mr. Ashton?
WES: One didn’t realize how important or how extreme it was as I do now — historically. It was an every day occurrence. It was wonderful. He was very detailed, very particular…extremely detailed in everything he did. You’d do about three steps and you would stop and he would say this, this, and this. It was an amazing time. I’ve often said, I’m just a phone — a telephone telling the youngsters of today what he told me, but in my own way, of course.
RB: Are you as particular as he was?
WES: Yes, because we were brought up that way. My late husband too was extremely detailed.
RB: Can you describe the Ashton style?
WES: Mainly the Ashton style is very, very musical. The musicality has to be almost foremost. Then, the Cecchetti style of port de bras. The wonderful epaulment and the lines, the actual texture of the lines of the arms the dancer makes — that is what is so incredibly important.
RB: How long have you been staging Cinderella?
WES: Since my husband passed away in 1994. Those four years that I had after I retired from dancing…in those four years, Michael taught me everything to do with the stage. When you’re dancing, you don’t take much notice of it because you’re thinking of your own performance, your own steps, your costume…you’re thinking of yourself very much. It’s a different kettle of fish when you’re on the other side and you have to see to everything. Not just the dancers, but the costumes, the lighting, the scenery, the sidelines, the music, the conductor, the orchestra…everything. I learned a lot in those four years. He really taught me everything about what I do now.
RB: Did you set Cinderella on the Joffrey when they performed it in 2006?
WES: Yes…completely, from scratch.
RB: How long does the rehearsal process take when you’re starting from scratch?
WES: It takes about 3 weeks to teach it. That’s just teaching the steps. Then another 2-3 weeks to polish it, clarify it and stage it…very much depending on the actual dancers. Some companies can take longer.
RB: How do you like working with the Joffrey?
WES: I love it. I’ve really been happy here. It’s really a fabulous company. Everybody is wanting it to be good.
RB: What is your favorite scene in Cinderella?
WES: I’ve always loved the seasons. I just love that part…and I think the very end is beautiful…that walk up the stairs.
RB: What do you tell the ballerina that has to make the Act II entrance walking down the stairs en pointe (while looking forward)? What is your advice?
WES: That is also to do with the partner, because he has greeted her hand right at the top of the stairs and what she has to do is slide the side of her shoe down the corner…the crease in the stair…the toe meets the next step. When she gets to the bottom, he squeezes her hand again and she bourres to the next step. That’s how you do it. You have to trust your partner 100% and trust yourself. It’s an amazing entrance, isn’t it?
RB: Do you find that dancers have a difficult time counting the Prokofiev score?
WES: Well, they have to know it. They have to listen to it a lot. It’s not easy. It’s not Tchaikovsky. It’s much more difficult obviously.
RB: Did you change anything from the last time you set it here?
WES: The choreography never changes, but there may be a few little changes that you’ll have to look for in the transitions. You look for it. I’m not going to tell you.
Cinderella runs February 17-28 at The Auditorium Theatre, 50 E Congress. Tickets are available at the Joffrey Box Office in the lobby of 10 E Randolph, at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University or at Ticketmaster: 800.982.2787 or online at www.ticketmaster.com.