BWW Reviews: Ballet Austin Brings Tchaikovsky's SLEEPING BEAUTY to Life
As I stood waiting in line for a glass of wine, an excited hoard of children and their parents descended on a central table covered in ballerina ornaments, tutus, autographed pointe shoes, and a plethora of various types of ballerina paraphernalia, while kindly ladies donning tiaras worked as quickly as they could before curtain. There was magic in the air, and certainly no doubt that this was a highly anticipated event in Austin.
I once heard Tchaikovsky's ballet Sleeping Beauty described as a Fabergé egg; gilded and beautiful on the outside, but hollow on the inside. Because of a lack of plot and character development, this is most certainly the case. The costumes, courtesy of Cincinnati Ballet and designed by Peter Farner, were beautiful, with the exception of the king's overly reactive wig and crowns, which often drew focus during scenes in which fellow dancers had center stage. The Queen's tall Fabergé-like crown, though gorgeous in its design, caused the King's stature to look quite small in comparison. The set was beautiful, despite moments of distraction when house lights malfunctioned, and fog machines were quite audibly loud. Aside from these minor details, the costumes and set truly take focus in this particular ballet, and the piece is lovely.
Even though the choreography of Marius Petipa could be a bit stagnant and repetitive at times, the dancers' technique and abilities were showcased well. The choreography proved challenging to some of Ballet Austin's leading performers. Paul Michael Bloodgood as Prince Désiré experienced a few issues in his sauté en tourné, but made up for this with impressive height in his leaps and tour jeté. Ashley Lynn Sherman as the beautiful Aurora, danced with solid technique, yet seemed a bit rigid and lacked dramatic flair. In fact, the entire production, for the most part, could have used a bit of fire and dynamics, and perhaps needed a bit of direction. For example, even in the second act, in which Prince Désiré battles the witch Carabosse to deliver the magical kiss to Aurora, Michelle Martin (a truly lovely Carabosse) provides little resistance, only lightly and ineffectively tossing him around a few times. Thanks to the modest intervention of Aurora's talented and delightful Lilac Fairy (danced by the skilled Jaime Lynn Witts), Prince Désiré actually gets to his princess without much trouble at all. Who knew it could be so easy? It was anticlimactic and a bit confusing, as my companion and I turned to each other and both said simultaneously, "That's it?". Then again, one must consider that the ballet's storyline simply doesn't allow time for character development and substance, and the dancers aren't left with much room for interpretive range. Witts, as the Lilac Fairy, performs her solos with ease and grace, but also lacks dramatic presence.
The highlight of the entire ballet occurs in the third act. Standout performances included Puss 'n Boots and The White Cat, danced by audience favorites Michael Burfield and Grace Morton, who simply burst with style, sass and character. Rebecca Johnson and Preston Andrew Patterson also delivered outstanding performances as Princess Florine and her Bluebird. The extension of Ms. Johnson's développés is something to behold, which I had been waiting to see throughout the production. And Mr. Patterson achieved breathtaking heights in his sautés. These four dancers' dramatic flair was as strong as their technique.
Sleeping Beauty, with its prologue and three acts, has a relatively short running time, even with two intermissions included, making it a fun choice for the little dancer in your life. This Mother's Day weekend, audiences will flock to see this ballet, not only to hear Tchaikovsky's brilliant music that we all know so well, but also to see their favorite local dancers. With only a short run from May 9th-11th, I'd bet that tickets will quickly disappear.
BALLET AUSTIN'S SLEEPING BEAUTY, performs at the The Long Center at 701 W Riverside Dr, Austin, TX 78704, now through May 11th. Performances are Friday May 9th at 8pm, Saturday May 10th at 2pm and 8pm, and Sunday, May 11th at 3pm. Tickets are $15-$75. For tickets and information, please visit TheLongCenter.org.