BWW Review: RICHMOND BALLET'S The Sleeping Beauty
Richmond Ballet's opening performance of The Sleeping Beauty on Friday, February 9th at 7pm in Dominion Energy Center's Carpenter Theatre played to a loyal audience. Conducted by Erin Freeman and staged by Artistic Associate and Ballet Master Malcolm Burn, the company romped through Petipa's work. Deeply theatrical, the dancers - from the children of the School of Richmond Ballet to its seasoned veterans - proved their comedic strengths.
Khaiyom Khojaev as Puss 'n Boots adeptly managed the role of emcee, from his opening balance post-pirouette to the wry twisting of his whiskers and playful repartee with Abi Goldstein as the White Cat. Melissa Robinson exhibited luxurious épaulement as Honesty Fairy. Eri Nishihara's elastic retiré as Beauty Fairy demonstrated her technical control. Elise Gaubatz attacked the fast, polyphonic structure of the Songbird Fairy with near manic delivery - to the audience's delight. Abi Goldstein (Temperament) and Thel Moore III were the most dynamic coupling of the fairies with their equal attention to affectation as technical capacity. I should note that I have seen Goldstein dance since her days as a Boston Ballet trainee, so I am able to recognize her abilities more fully than those of other company members.
In a first experience observing the company, overall they were most effective as turners rather than jumpers, with masterful articulation of their legs and torsos. Story ballets provide an opportunity to maximize each company member (several taking on multiple roles). With the moderate size of the company, a clear camaraderie propelled the partnering.
Strongly welcomed by the audience on her initial entry as Lilac Fairy, Lauren Archer demonstrated musical precision and strong turns. Elena Bello's Carabosse, however, commanded a new appreciation for an often scorned character. Bello's dynamic (and at times, nearly reckless) posturing created a magnetic, flirtatious element. Rather than terrify, Bello's Carabosse entranced the court. She seduced, rarely resorting to the usual sinister interpretation. Her charisma introduced a lightness to an otherwise dark role.
Cody Beaton created an assertive Aurora with her joyful approach to her father's marriage-seeking edict. Like Bello's Carabosse, Beaton charmed her way through the role. A strong jumper, Beaton's spiraling port de bras in bourée turns showed pliability in contrast to her sharp footwork. In a supported penchée sequence with each of her suitors, Beaton maintained her line and her cheekiness. Marty Davis' Prince Florimund exhibited the strongest plies of the evening, especially in his swivel turns during The Vision in Act II.
The members of the very young corps de ballet deftly supported the company in their turns as attendants, pages, courtiers, garland dancers, and nymphs. Carter Bush, Oliver Gardner, Hart Isaacoff, and Zachary Owen as Trees nearly stole the show as Savannah George (Little Red Riding Hood) sailed through petite allegro with Thel Moore III (Wolf) in their divertissement.
Goldstein demonstrated her comedic side as the White Cat. Goldstein and Khojaev's divertissement gave Vaudeville theatrics, with a loose, undulating quality of movement. Trevor Davis and Nishihara complemented each other in the Bluebird pas de deux with nimble, meticulous footwork. Davis and Beaton's mutual confidence resonated in the depth to which Beaton descended across his knee straight from her pirouettes.
The company fully committed to a cheerful presence; despite the trauma Aurora and her parents faced, this was a highly celebratory occasion (quite distinct from other productions of the work). Burn's staging and choreography tightened the narrative and fully integrated every dancer on stage. The performance cohesion uplifted each individual dancer's performance. The School of Richmond Ballet students, members of Richmond Ballet II, and trainees displayed the power of even the smallest part. Together, these artists amplified a well-known story in a deliberate showcase of their technical and performative range.
Cody Beaton and Marty Davis in The Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Sarah Ferguson.