ABT's Sleeping Beauty Pairs Memorable Dancing with a Troubled Production
by Steven Woodruff
Dance at the Music Center closed out this year’s programming this past weekend with performances of American Ballet Theater’s "The Sleeping Beauty". David Hallberg and Paloma Herrera danced the principal roles. It is the third version of the ballet for ABT since 1976. It is a busy production with a cast and sets that seem to crowd the dance space. The action, too, is uncomfortably packed into two acts rather than the traditional three. Herrera’s Aurora was mostly a bland affair with little in the way of engaging acting or joy in the virtuosic. When she wakes from her hundred-year sleep it seems little more than another entrance with little sense of wonderment or mystery in what has befallen her.
There were others however who looked spectacular in this lusterless and at times cluttered production. Gillian Murphy infused her Aurora with sparkling charm. Hallberg was powerful in his flying entrance in the hunting scene. After a slow start you could feel that the ballet was finally going to ignite. The four other men in the hunting entourage, Gray Davis, Alexandre Hammoudi, Thomas Forster and Jose Sebastian gave the action a lift that was sorely needed. The last of them, trailing the prince off stage, took two turns and two jumps en manege to clear the entire width of the stage before flying into the wings.
Misty Copeland as the Fairy of Valor brought us dancing with joyful intensity. Luciana Paris as the Fairy of Joy made you believe in her fluttering hands and quick wit, and the Fairy of Fervor, Kristi Boone, filled the stage with open, expressive dancing. The single sustained highlight of the evening came from the Bluebird pairing of Hee Seo and Sasha Radetsky. Seo managed it all with perfect classical style and a calm smile that made the difficult feel effortless. Radetsky was sure in his partnering and gave fine floating arms and jumps in the famous travelling variation. The corps de ballet delivered beautiful ensemble dancing especially in the dream sequences. They made you believe in the fairy tale. Nancy Raffa as Carabosse was the best of the mime roles and was suitably spidery and dangerous with her contorted, menacing faces. Her fiery arrival and exit lent the moment a made for Disney appeal. The precise stagecraft was designed by Jaucheem and Meeh. The Grand Pas de Deux finally filled the stage with the kind of dancing from Herrera that should have been on tap from the beginning.
The music from the pit sounded full and secure. The two act arrangement delivered an unfortunate moment in covering the scene change in Act I. With the curtain down, the cell phone screens lit up across the audience. The chatter drowned out the music prompting conductor, Ormsby Wilkins, to turn and glare out over the auditorium. Concertmaster Ronald Oakland played with clarity and a generous sound all the solo obbligato passages. They were stylish and reached the back of the house with ease. I have no problems with McKenzie’s choreography in this production. Some of the shared additions are credited to Gelsey Kirkland. It is the confused setting, obscured storytellingm and heavy handed designs that bog down this "Sleepy Beauty". We never seem to know where we are, either in place or time. The pantheon-like set, far more than your average kingly hall, gives way to a Sun King Court in the final act. The men gamely dance their Mazurka in buckle-heavy high heels, but it never really feels or looks right.
( The reviewed performance took place July 16, 2010 at The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for the Glorya Kaufman Dance at the Music Center series.)