BWW Review: Australian Ballet's SLEEPING BEAUTY
Just when you think you are Sleeping Beautied out, along comes another production. This one however, is being produced on the other side of the world by the Australian Ballet. That's a long way to travel to see something you've already encountered in 500 other productions. On the other hand, why not? I'd never been to Australia and needed a vacation. So a 27-hour flight didn't seem to faze me. Plus, I would see a company that was almost totally unknown to me. I'd seen them on You Tube and was highly impressed. I missed them in New York, so this would be my chance not only to see the company, but Australia! Of course, there were other reasons. Like a great love I had in college 40 years before and had left because he wanted me to move to Melbourne with him. And I was going to meet him again! So if you combine the meeting of a past love and a new Sleeping Beauty, the combination was almost irresistible, at least to me. (I'm told that my brain works in peculiar ways, and this was definitely one of them!) So I booked a flight and in two days I was transported to one of the loveliest cities imaginable. And I could have been there 40 years earlier!
I started with some trepidations concerning Sleeping Beauty. The press release read "A classical reimagining, this landmark production will take history's most-loved fairytale into the modern age...Be swept into a world of magical fairies and bluebirds with Aurora and her Prince, as they dance their way through rose gardens and Imperial Courts, to Tchaikovsky's enchanting score." This sounded a bit too precious for my ears and besides, I knew all this. But this was the PR department and they had a job to do. Besides, I deal with PR all the time, and I know their way of thinking and what attracts audiences.
The second point was that David McAllister, one of Australian Ballet's former leading dancers and artistic director since 2001, was producing and choreographing the ballet for the first time in his career. Quite ballsy, as we Americans would say. When in Australia, I tried to distance myself from the other Americans, but I think like an American, and that's never going to change. I could have said that this was an artistic pitfall on McAllister's end, not to mention idiotic, but ballsy was definitely the better.adjective. But balls or not, he had the courage of his conviction. This shows great character. I was impressed!!!!
So what were the results? For all my peccadilloes and fault finding, quite good.
This is not what I'd call a deeply psychological portrait of Sleeping Beauty. If anything, it robs the ballet of insight and emotional resonance. I blame this on the designs of Gabriela Tylesova, which are lavish, opulent, sometimes garish and way over the top. There is so much Baroque and Rococco that the excess blinds you to what is happening on the stage. To be honest, I would have preferred a blue cyclorama and some set pieces, but this is what you get when you start your ballet life on Balanchine and leotards, tee shirts and tights I don't think I even had much interest in the designs, as I was more concerned with the ballet and its overall effect on mood and pacing. So I tried to center my eyes on dancers and not move them with the scenery. It was hard.
The same applies to the costumes. Yes, they were beautiful, but with such a rich palette of colors, it was hard to see the Aurora for the overly embellished tutus. I do sympathize with McAllister. He wanted to make this a family friendly show, one you can take the kids to-like me?-but at the same time he made a phantasmagoria of such riotous colors that I began to wonder what next? The kitchen sink. Too American!!!
Nicolette Fraillon, Music Director and Chief Conductor, led what I consider a nice performance, marred by tonal imperfections and the loudness and crassness of the brass section. I hope this is corrected in the near future. Instead of a smooth transition from dance to dance, it sounded as if rehearsal time had not been allotted for the orchestra, and made my ears wince. Or perhaps they're just too sensitive, having heard Sleeping Beauty played quite beautifully on recordings, which, I know, is not the same as a live performance. Still, some clarity in orchestral quality and sound is required. And when you're dealing with one of the greatest ballet scores ever written, you've got to produce the sound that sets the stage, not to mention the mood, for almost three hours. I'm sure it's all a matter of economics.
There were some nice dramatic touches, especially in the prologue when we see Catalabutte tear up the invitation to Carabosse, leading to her fury at the christening. And, to my utter amazement, he let the Lilac Fairy actually enter on her music. I've seen so many productions where the Lilac Fairy is already on stage before the music, and it ruins her grand entrance, one that evokes her compassion, insight and tenderness. Well done!!!!
And while we're on fairies, I'd like to single out Lynette Wills, a former principal dancer with the company who appeared in leading roles in Onegin, Swan Lake, Bayadère, and Serenade. Miss Willis is very much a dancer in the Diana Adams mode -- anyone remember her?-- her long and plush line, plus those beautiful eyes recalling Adams in Liebeslider Walzer, Apollo, Episodes, Western Symphony, and Agon. I don't know what role she played in Serenade, but I hope it was the Angel. This was the first time I had ever seen Ms. Wills and, while a menacing and fiery Carabosse, her body only pointed up her lyricism and warm, glowing strange presence. She didn't scare me; I wanted to embrace her. All said and done, she must have been one hell of a fine dancer. Are there any movies available of her? I'd like to see them.
Valerie Tereshchenko gave a fully realized performance as the Lilac Fairy. It's always hard for any dancer to take on the Lilac Fairy. In most productions that I've seen she is portrayed as a cipher, someone who pops in every now and then to perform some good magic deed and then disappear. Here there was more. This Lila Fairy commanded the stage with poise, elegance, and a will of her own. She was not terrified or ruffled by Carabosse. She told her where to go in very plain terms.
I saw three casts in the leading roles: Lana Jones and Kevin Jackson, Amber Scott and Ty King-Wall, and Miwako Kubota and Daniel Gaudiello. Of the three, Jones and Jackson were the most polished, Scott and King-Wall pushing a bit too hard, and Miwako Kubota and Daniel Gaidiello in need of help, especially Kubota. While she shows promise, at this point in her career Auroras technical prowess is well beyond her reach. I hope she gets more coaching because it was at times embarrassing to watch her. She lacked assurance, especially in the Rose Adagio. Need I say more?
When the performances were over, I wondered just how this would play in New York. I can see the critics castigating McAllister for taking on such a project without any history of choreographing anything of his own, too much stage business and not enough drama, no big names, the attempt of what might be considered a provincial company to even take on Sleeping Beauty. Not to mention the donation drive to raise money for the production. This wouldn't go unnoticed. The tongues on the Internet would be wagging.
On the other hand, would audience members care? Truth be told, I think they would. As much as I have come to admire the Australian Ballet, I don't think this Beauty is for the world's stages. It sounds mean-and I am not a mean person (really!)--but this production needs the signature of a Ratmansky-whose Beauty I did not like-or a Royal Ballet pedigree And while Ratmansky did choreograph his version of Cinderella on the Australian Ballet, it has since been picked up by other companies.
The Australian Ballet needs a larger following. Maybe they should stream this version in selected theatres in New York or on Youtube. These are only my suggestions. Only time will tell how the company progresses. It's already had quite an illustrious history. Let's see what happens.