BWW Reviews: New York City Ballet Presents Peter Martins' Ambitious Staging of THE SLEEPING BEAUTY
There exists in ballet a trifecta of works that represent the pinnacle of classical ballet's golden age. I am referring to the Petipa classics Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and The Sleeping Beauty, which bring together grand, impressive scores and narrative dancing to transport the audience into the realm of fairy tales. Balanchine paid homage to this Russian Imperial Ballet legacy with his versions of The Nutcracker and Swan Lake. Current New York City Ballet artistic director Peter Martins picked up where Balanchine left off and presented his ambitious production of The Sleeping Beauty in 1991.
Though met with mixed reviews at its premiere, Martins' Sleeping Beauty is generally considered a success and one of his strongest choreographic endeavors to date. The scaled down version that is shown may suffer from a clumsy narrative and some minor choreographic dissonance, but its many charming aspects allow for a pleasant and surprisingly fresh glimpse into one of the world's most treasured ballets. In my last review I mentioned how nice it is to see one of the world's premier dance companies doing what it does best. Perhaps full-length story ballets like The Sleeping Beauty are not quite what City Ballet does best, but this production should not be so easily dismissed.
In Martins' Sleeping Beauty the passing of time and space is established by graceful transitions between the gorgeously crafted backdrops and set pieces. At the end of the first act the Lilac Fairy lays a spell over the kingdom, allowing its inhabitants to sleep peacefully until their princess is awakened by true love's kiss. The effect of the rapidly encroaching ivy during The Spell section was breathtaking and keenly executed. In keeping with the ballet's history the mise en scene paid tribute to the grandeur of Louis XIV France, while the costumes were equally lavish and ostentatious.
Overall the principal roles in Beauty were very well danced. Technically the dancers were stupendous. All the soloists brought vivacity and focus to their respective roles and should be applauded for their bravura performances. My problem with this program lay predominately with the dancing of the corps de ballet. The sharp and jagged clarity for which the company is renowned doesn't quite fit this particular style of ballet and, unsurprisingly, I found myself yearning for the rounded refinement of the Russian Mariinsky.
On Wednesday night Megan Fairchild danced Princess Aurora. She brought a youthful energy to the role of the ingénue, but was perhaps a bit too forceful in her portrayal of the chaste sixteen-year-old princess. Still, the swiftness of her feet evoked a sense of urgency that is marked in all teenagers, and her strength as a classical technician was firmly established by the end of the second act.
The evil fairy Carabosse was played by principal dancer Maria Kowroski, who brought a sense of humor to this sinister character and threw herself into her interpretation with abandon. She played up the dark and scorned fairy perfectly. Her gestures were as clear as her intentions. When I watch dancers like Kowroski I usually find it difficult to peel my eyes away from their legs and feet--tonight I felt that way about her face. Apart from being a beautiful dancer Ms. Kowroski is also, undeniably, a very strong actress.
In the second act characters from other beloved fairy tales attend the wedding of Princess Aurora and Prince Desire and entertain the court. Lauren King stood out as Emerald. She succeeded where many failed in this variation and was able to move purely without appearing too stylized. The White Cat and Puss in Boots were playful and sassy, always an audience favorite. School of American Ballet student Claire Abraham was adorable as Red Riding hood and the springy trio of court jesters wowed the audience with their acrobatic routine.
The quintessential danseur noble, Joaquin de Luz, performed the part of Prince Desire. De Luz's elegant proportions sailed through space, creating pristine lines that exuded a powerful masculinity that was well suited for this role. His virtuosic abilities were tested during difficult combinations of pirouettes and tours en l'air, but he met the challenges with poise and danced each step flawlessly. Every great male dancer must be a great partner; here de Luz delivers yet again. He and Fairchild danced terrifically with one another, particularly in the grand Pas de Deux near the end of the ballet.
The keystone of Wednesday night's Beauty was Sara Mearns as the Lilac Fairy. Her consistency throughout the evening was unparalleled. Her arabesques were high and her feet beautifully articulated. She approached the character with a detached stoicism that was intriguingly suitable for the benign supernatural being she embodied. Her strength outshone some of the weaker aspects of the night and thankfully connected some of the disparate points of the work into a cohesive whole.
Martins' adaptation of The Sleeping Beauty isn't perfect. Holes in the libretto and strange choreographic choices plague the work. When you put something under a microscope you see all the fine details you may have missed at first glance, highlighting both the good and the bad. I bring this up to reinforce that there is plenty of good in this ballet. It is full of gems and is largely a very enjoyable show. Balanchine's Garland Dance remains as striking and poignant today as it did when it was created--reason alone to make the trek to Lincoln Center.
Works like this do not necessarily reflect what the company does best; they ask the viewers to evaluate their expectations as a City Ballet audience member. The contrast between extravagant story ballets and City ballet's stark, modern works illustrate the versatility of the company and allow some of its dancers a unique opportunity to thrive in the kind of classical roles which they are usually not afforded. On the whole this Sleeping Beauty is a grand production with many admirable qualities and a thoroughly entertaining addition to the season's roster.