Cinderella production fulfills dream of Joffrey founder

  • By WINTER JOHNSON
  • Medill News Service
  • October 09, 2006 @ 2:52 AM
In the midst of a sparkling ballroom, Wendy Ellis Somes, director of staging for the Joffrey Ballet's "Cinderella," coaches in each dancer with precision, poise and patience.

Nevermind that she has the dancers go through their movements over and over and ... over. Each arabesque must be to a perfect diagonal. Each turn must have the right amount of energy and "musicality," as she would say. Every pas de deux must be in perfect sychronization. And if it's not right, she will gently instruct the dancer to do it again -- with sweetness and maybe an occasional "darling."

Somes is a legend in the dance world. In fact, her career could be seen as a fairy tale in itself.

Beginning her ballet journey at age 3 with the British Ballet Organization, London-based Somes has had a career that many ballerinas dream of. Leaving home at age 12 upon acceptance to the junior division of London's renowned Royal Ballet, Somes graduated and landed a spot in the company only six years later. Working closely with legendary founder Sir Frederick Ashton and Principal Choreographer Sir Kenneth MacMillan, she grew in her craft, too young to know that she was learning from men who would become history.

"I was so fortunate; it was an every day occurrence," she said when thinking back on working with Ashton and MacMillan. "I was at the right place at the right time." Ashton, who created "Cinderella," is considered one of the greatest choreographers of the 20th century.

The Royal Ballet, based at the Royal Opera House, was home for Somes, who danced there from 1969 to her retirement in 1990. Becoming a principal in 1978, she danced in hundreds of ballets, including: "La Fille Mal Gardee," "Romeo and Juliet," "Sleeping Beauty," "Mayerling," and "The Dream." And she even met a handsome prince--her late husband, Michael Somes, who played the role of the Prince in the 1948 "Cinderella" debut. Michael Somes also held a co-directorship in the Royal Ballet.

"He was beautiful," said Somes with a smile. "He taught me so much about production, about lighting, about theater."

Somes, 54, who has danced everything from the role of a page to Cinderella herself in Ashton's work, received the rights to the ballet after her husband's death -- and knows the work through and through. She also had a heavy hand in the casting of the production.

Though Ashton created "Cinderella" in 1948, it has not gracefully landed on American soil until now, completing a dream for the Joffrey Ballet's late founder, Robert Joffrey.

Seeing the dancers two years ago in a "triple bill"--ballet-speak for three short ballets--she felt the time was ripe to bring the ballet to Chicago. While other companies expressed interest in "Cinderella," it was the Joffrey that got her attention, with its family atmosphere and the quality of the dancers, she said.

"Bob Joffrey wanted to do Cinderella years ago," she said. "It's so appropriate that it's come for the 50th Anniversary."

So what's next for the experienced dancer and director? A trip to Buenos Aires, where she can rest her well-pointed feet.

When: Through Oct. 15

Where: Auditorium Theatre

$$$$: Prices vary; buy tickets online at ticketmaster.com or by calling 312-902-1500

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