BWW Review: THE SLEEPING BEAUTY at Kennedy Center is a Dream to behold
Yes, Washington, even in these cynical times, fairy tales do come true. For proof, look no further than the dream come true that is The National Ballet of Canada's production of The Sleeping Beauty at the Kennedy Center.
When it comes to Sleeping Beauty, it is hard to think of it outside any context that is not Disney-related - her castle alone is a symbol of that all-American cultural icon Disneyland. So it seems only appropriate that it be our neighbors to the north, and their National Ballet to re-envision this classic into a production that is beautiful and downright exquisite.
Legendary ballet choreographer Rudolf Nureyev put the National Ballet of Canada on the map with his 1972 production of The Sleeping Beauty. At the Kennedy Center, Artistic Director Karen Kain, who was a dancer in Nureyev's production, recreates his vision. The result is an evening of ballet that perfectly balances substance and style.
Part of the fun of this production is getting reacquainted with a fairy tale most of us have probably long since forgotten. Even if you have only seen the 1959 Disney version, the plot is basically the same. During the celebration of her birth, Princess Aurora is put under a curse that on her sixteenth birthday she will poke her hand on a spindle and die. Fortunately the Lilac Fairy intervenes, and reverses the curse so that she will not die, but that she and the entire castle will fall asleep for one hundred years, until a prince wakes her up.
Like all fairy tales the plot is rather simplistic, but that's what makes it perfect for the ballet. Kain and Nureyev uses this opportunity to provide us with dances that are technically challenging and stylistically thrilling, taking full advantage of the National Ballet of Canada's incredibly talented cast.
This starts with our title character, Princess Aurora, portrayed by the radiant Heather Ogden. She is the perfect princess in terms of being whimsical yet stunning, playful yet fully in command. Ogden establishes this early and effortlessly in Act I with the flirtatious dance between Aurora and her suitors, played by Ethan Watts, Peng-Fei Jiang, Christopher Gerty, Ben Rudisin.
As her love interest Prince Florimund, Harrison James is stately and commanding. He's not the over the top savior that is so commonly seen in fairy tales. Instead, he possesses a quiet confidence that builds to a crescendo in Act III with his variation.
Setting the entire story in motion is our dueling fairies. Rebekah Rimsay is a delightfully datasardly Carabosse, the wicked fairy. Costume Designer Nicholas Georgiadis, who has the entire company in a series of pastels, has Rimsay in a dark red and black. The distinction, combined with her bold performance provides us with the great villain that every fairy tale needs.
On the other hand, Tanya Howard, as the Lilac Fairy, has an equally distinct performance. In a manner that can only be described as lilting, she flirts and flutters around the stage setting the evening's climax in motion and making all well in the world. The contrasts between Howard and Rimsay does a wonderful job establishing the dueling worlds and natures of the fairies who seek to command Aurora's fate.
While the plot mainly wraps up in Act II, Act III is more or less an extended curtain call woven into the story. What makes this final act as equally enjoyable as the previous two, is that it allows the company to show off the skills through a series of variations. Standouts include a stunning Naoya Ebe as the Bluebird, Miyoko Koyasu and Siphensihle November as the Pussycats, and Jordana Daumec as the gift of gold. These are small moments that add up to an exuberant celebration of love between Aurora, her prince, and the kingdom.
Georgiadis' set design is both traditional and familiar. He doesn't attempt to stray from the "once upon a time" narrative. Much of the action takes place within the royal castle which is clad in dark stone, and a winding staircase. Where he excels though is in the magical transformation of Aurora and the castle descending into 100 years of sleep, covering the set and stage with a series of vines.
Part of what makes this production so incredibly special is the presence of live music. It has become quite fashionable to stage ballets with recorded or "canned" music. Despite what others may say, yes you can notice a difference. So to have Maestro David Briskin conduct Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky' score with the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra in such a masterful way is more than a treat, it is a privilege.
For many Tchaikovsky will always be associated with another ballet, that perennial holiday classic The Nutcracker. That being said, Sleeping Beauty is the perfect opportunity for those seeking to experience ballet beyond Christmas. It cannot be said enough, this ballet is more than just a treat, it is a joy to behold.
Runtime is 2 hours and 30 minutes with two intermissions
The National Ballet of Canada's production of The Sleeping Beauty runs thru February 2nd at the John F. Kenned Center for the Performing Arts - 2700 F St NW, Washington, DC 20566. For tickets please call (202) 467-4600 or click here.