BWW Reviews: NYCB: Ana Sophia Scheller Shines as Aurora in SLEEPING BEAUTY Debut
The Sleeping Beauty | New York City Ballet | February 20, 2013
Written with Ellen Dobbyn-Blackmore
Ana Sophia Scheller and Gonzalo Garcia in Peter Martins' The Sleeping Beauty
Photo Credit: Paul Kolnik
As New York City Ballet's winter season winds down in its final week there is still plenty of news being made. Ana Sophia Scheller's debut in the role of Princess Aurora was a resounding success in this grand production. If her attitude balances in the Rose Adagio were a bit hesitant and brief, so what? She was every inch the young and sublime princess in all the rest that the role demanded. Scheller is, simply put, a beautiful dancer.
Like any true allegro dancer she has the ability to never seem to be in a hurry but always gets where she's going on time. Even as the orchestra set some blistering tempos, Scheller remained light and airy. Her upper body was always graceful and at ease with cool elegance in her port de bras. Of the many things that she does well, grace is her defining virtue. With a convincing portrayal of Princess Aurora safely behind her, Scheller looks ready to move on into other great leads like Juliet and Odette/Odile.
The sure-handed partnering of Gonzalo Garcia in the role of Prince Désiré seemed to put Scheller completely at ease because her balances suddenly became perfectly assured when they danced together. In all of their turns, lifts and balances, these two match each other's lines very well making each pose into a classic ballet picture. More than merely matching lines, these two radiate harmony and they clearly enjoy dancing together. Garcia carries himself with a princely air of conviction and is a pleasure to watch though he was not strong in his turns. He appeared to have his chin tucked in and looked to be in danger of falling backward on occasion.
Savannah Lowery also had an important debut in this performance as she stepped into the role of the Lilac Fairy. Lowery is at times able to generate some real excitement with her dancing. There are flashes of exquisite lyricism when she hits a balance. She never merely stops on the balance point. When she gets there she begins to grow in the position, stretching up and over an invisible fulcrum that gives it life and invests what could be a static moment with the poetry of a sigh.
The Lilac Fairy has to do a lot of dancing surrounded by other fairies in the first act of this ballet. No less than five additional fairies are sporting colorful tutus and tiaras of their own which results in competition for the audience's attention. It's hard to know which way to look because the stage is crowded with so much dancing talent at once. It turned out not to be a problem for Lowery as she was able to assert her primacy over the fairy pack at every moment with equanimity.
Veteran principal dancer Jenifer Ringer took obvious delight in the bad girl role of Carabosse, the vengeful fairy. After arriving in a mini-coach that resembled a spider web themed tonga, she slithered and skulked around the stage in a glitzy black costume with a gleefully malignant presence. Other notable fairy performances included Megan LeCrone and Lauren King.
It is probably pushing the envelope to extend compliments to the orchestra, led in this performance by Clotilde Otranto, for its playing of what is not one of Tchaikovsky's better works. Almost none of the themes stick in the mind on the way out of the theater. Some of the variations seem to stop abruptly in mid-phrase with no proper musical punctuation and the bulk of this score is forgettable. This is no masterpiece like Swan Lake and it's no great source of indelible tunes like The Nutcracker. However, it was capably if too briskly played, and the quality of the music should not be held too much against the musicians.
If money were the only criterion for establishing success then New York City Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty is a runaway hit. Every ballet company needs to have ballets in its repertoire that can be relied upon to generate strong box office success and this company is fortunate to have two with this production of The Sleeping Beauty to augment The Nutcracker. This is a massive and expensive production designed to please the crowd and sell tickets, lots of tickets. This is the all important time of the season when the popular favorite has to generate enough extra income to enable new productions of the repertory pieces which City Ballet is famous for around the world. Money in the bank means work for living choreographers.
The costumes are beautiful in detail and rich in both saturated colors and delicate pastels while the fairy tale setting is impeccable. There were more tiaras used during the performance than have probably ever graced a single stage at one time in the history of ballet. Brilliant twinkles were refracting from ballerina heads all over the place in a proud display. It might as easily have been titled Sleep-Bling Beauty. Elsewhere it was stated that 100 dancers are featured in this ballet and the number seems plausible. About half were from the company's ranks and the rest were made up of dancers from the company's own School of American Ballet in a move that was surely a premeditated attempt to set the needle swinging on the Adorableometer. If you wanted anything more from this production than it delivered then there is something seriously wrong with you.
The Adorableometer began to register substantial activity in the yellow zone during the Christening scene with all the tiny attendants following behind the plethora of fairies and royalty and generally eliciting involuntary sighs and awwwwws from the audience. The little ones carried gifts on pillows for baby Aurora and held trains for the king and queen.
Moving into the legendary Garland Dance, choreographed by Balanchine himself many years ago, the Adorableometer began to edge dangerously into the orange zone with what appeared to be dozens of little ballerinas weaving in and out of the spaces between their older counterparts. At this point several eyes were being dabbed at by proud parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents in the audience. The sighs were elevated to near gasps of pleasure.
Mercifully there was a brief respite during the following Vision scene while Georgina Pazcoguin vented her spleen over being jilted by the melancholy Prince Désiré. Her delightfully peevish spite was a welcome antidote to the prevailing sweetness and made one think wistfully of Carabosse. The prince then sailed off into the sunset or gloom (or whatever) with the Lilac Fairy and the Adorableometer had time to cool down before the second act which would prove fateful.
Everything began innocently enough with Gold, Emerald, Ruby and Diamond dancing their hearts out. Sarah Adams was a speed demon as Emerald with her darting feet and was easily the best of the quartet although Erica Pereira's Ruby was also very good. It was just after this point when the Adorableometer began to veer wildly and dangerously into the orange zone, nearing the red. It was the cats. The White Cat and Puss in Boots, Sarah Villwock and Taylor Stanley, hit the stage and made the most of their moment as they playfully and shamelessly pawed at their ears and scratched at each other. The audience loved them and would have petted the fur off them if they had stuck around.
Princess Florine and the Bluebird attempted to restore order with their pas de deux and were mostly successful. As Florine, Brittany Pollack continued her string of fine performances this winter season with nearly flawless dancing supported by the feather light touch of Troy Schumacher's Bluebird. Pollack is a dancer more like Scheller than unlike. She moves speedily and carries a regal air. It won't be long before she is dancing Aurora herself.
Andrew Scordato would have been well advised to heed the advice of W.C. Fields never to work with animals or children. They will upstage you every time. Scordato would have to be forgiven if he felt a touch of bitterness in his role as the Wolf. He was big and he was bad and he may have had the bigger teeth but he was no match for tiny Charlotte Sandford who ate up the stage as Little Red Riding Hood. That sound at the end of their dance was not just riotous applause. It also included the thunderous and irreparable explosion of the Adorableometer. Words fail to adequately express how cute she was in her tiny red cape; she received one of the loudest ovations of the evening. If Miss Sandford one day ends up wearing Princess Aurora's tiara, don't be surprised.
Peter Martins' The Sleeping Beauty is a lavish production that fully delivers on its promise to entertain. It is a full night with lots of dancing by a cast of a hundred wearing gorgeous and colorful costumes. There is glamour delivered by plenty of beautiful tiara-topped ballerinas, handsome and exotic princes, magical fairies and the requisite touch of evil. Mission accomplished. See you all in the spring.