BWW Review: American Ballet's SLEEPING BEAUTY Draws on Ballet's Legacy
Having spawned a Disney movie, The Sleeping Beauty is likely the most well known of ballet's "big three." Almost every ballet company and ballet school has produced a version of this piece. American Ballet Theater was founded in 1939 to create a repertory of ballet's best historical works and to create new classics. In The Sleeping Beauty at The Kennedy Center, Alexei Ratmansky has brought one of the most canonical works in ballet back to its roots.
What distinguishes this Sleeping Beauty from most modern productions is Richard Hudson's production design, based on the Russian artists Léon Bakst's costumes for the 1921 Ballet Russes production. Hudson's design was spectacular. Filled with saturated colors, crinolines and wigs, Hudson transformed the stage into a rococo royal court. While the general audience might be in awe of the beauty and extravagance, the design is a ballet nerd's dream. The 1921 Ballet Russes production was Sergei Diaghilev's memories of the original Marius Petipa production, which was, in turn, based on his memories of the French court. The entire effect reportedly took ABT $6 million to create.
Newly promoted Stella Abrera was elegant and lovely as the Lilac Fairy. Daniil Simkin as the Blue Bird refreshingly burst with energy as he leapt across the stage. However, it sometimes felt as if there was not enough movement. The dancers too frequently maneuvered themselves into overly posed positions, as if subjects in a painting of the 1921 production and not actively performing themselves. At times, the audience could even see the dancers struggle to stay still. This choreography was perhaps true to Ratmansky's vision of honoring an iconic production, but does not play as well to contemporary audiences.
The Sleeping Beauty is a very child friendly ballet. Capitalizing on this idea, Ratmansky filled his production with children. They played friends, royal attendants, and slightly disturbingly soldiers. The most delightful use of the children was in the third act's vignette of Hop-o'-my-Thumb and the Ogre. Scampering about and creating mischief on stage perfectly utilized their energy. Even when one child missed his queue, entering eight counts too soon, the audience was delighted. During a weekend matinee filled with children, savvy Ratmansky has created many opportunities for ballet's tiniest fans to see themselves in the work.
The Sleeping Beauty is a story about rediscovering the past in order to find happiness. By delving into ballet's roots, Ratmansky crafted a sumptuous world complete with a happy ending.