NBT’S LATEST: MOSTLY BEAUTIFUL, SLIGHTLY SLEEPY
By: Hal de Becker
Nevada Ballet Theatre’s presentation of Sleeping Beauty, as staged and choreographed by James Canfield after the original Tchaikovsky / Marius Petipa production, was a pleasing introduction to the work for those not familiar with the full scale version.
The original production premiered in 1890 in St. Petersburg, Russia and is considered the apogee of the Classical story-ballet. Petipa was influenced by the dazzling splendor of the 17th century court of the French king - and ballet dancer, Louis 14th. His production required majestic sets and costumes, a huge cast, pageantry and spectacular dances.
A production of such grandiose proportions is beyond the reach of most dance companies and abridged versions abound. Canfield’s had the distinct advantage of unburdening the ballet of much of the mime, ceremony, promenading and courtly ‘business’ that today often become tiresome.
Photo by Virginia Trudeau
From the rising of the curtain on Act I to its descent after the finale of Act III, patrons were treated to a continuous flow of enchanting dances. Some were Petipa originals, but many others were of Canfield’s own making and were captivating and musical. All were danced beautifully and exuberantly by NBT company members, apprentices and trainees.
Early in the first scene a stunning solo by newcomer Jun Tanabe drew enthusiastic applause. It was followed by other newly choreographed solos and ensembles all of which were exemplars of pure classical ballet.
As fairies, Christine Ghiardi, Caroline MacDonald, Alissa Dale and Michelle Meltzer performed with charm and technical ease. Their four cavaliers, Sergio Alvarez, Benjamin Tucker, Steven Goforth and Stephan Azulay were strong in their solos and, when soaring together as a quartet, displayed perfect unity.
Scene II introduced another new company member, Kaori Fukui, in the title role of Princess Aurora, the sleeping beauty. Her dancing was flawless, musical and expressive. And she was pretty, too.
But her tiny stature made her seem more a child than the teenager Aurora is supposed to be and the bride that she becomes. That impression was not alleviated later when, in the Petipa Rose Adagio, her four partners happened to be among the company’s tallest men.
When she danced alone or with a single well-matched partner the effect was different. At such times, the absence of visual height comparisons, plus a dancer’s own symmetry and carriage, makes size undetectable and unimportant.
The same scene included an exhilarating waltz for large ensemble. It was resplendent with broad graceful movements and patterns, and was one of the evening’s most entrancing dances.
Jordan McHenry was ‘over the top’ as Carabosse and made her seem more like a vampire than an evil fairy. Choreography for the six minions was appropriately contorted and convincingly performed by apprentices and trainees.
It was in Scene III that the ballet bogged down with two drawn out sequences. The first involved Prince Desire and Lilac Fairy, portrayed, respectively, by Morgan Stillman and Krista Baker, in which the Prince is first shown a vision of Aurora and then awakens the real one. The second instance was a tedious continuation of their first coming together.
Both sections were repetitious and extended far beyond the point at which the intent of the action had already been conveyed.
The ballet’s finale was the luminous Wedding Scene consisting of a divertissement of sparkling classical and character dances.
The famed Petipa Grand pas de Deux was performed by Fukui and Stillman. They made a handsome couple and exuded an aura of regal elegance.
Her dancing was impeccable in every aspect. His partnering was smooth and he danced his solos, not with exhibitionistic bravura, but tastefully, with the dignified reserve befitting a prince.
The Garland Dance, a big ensemble piece, rivaled the earlier waltz and was another memorable highlight for the ballet.
Fairy tale characters including Red Riding Hood, the Wolf, Puss in Boots and The White Cat were delightfully danced by Leigh Collins, Danielle Maas, Tucker and Goforth.
The usually exciting Bluebird pas de deux was tamely performed by Emma McGirr and Stephan Azulay who, in his solo, omitted the cinq de vole (flying beats). Neither dancer executed the fluttering arm nor hand movements intended to mimic birds’ wings.
Costumes, credited to Peter Farmer, were bright and colorful, especially the tutus. However, his drab Scene I setting, with splashes of dull green blobs on the walls, resembled a dungeon more than a palace.
Fortunately the sets improved as the ballet progressed culminating in the Wedding Scene with tall columns and imposing chandeliers. As always, Peter Jakubowski’s lighting was highly effective.
The production was sponsored by Audra and Bobby Baldwin who must have been, and deservedly so, delighted by the huge ovations it received.