American Ballet Theater's THE SLEEPING BEAUTY

07/19/2010 by

Dance at the Music Center  closed out  this year’s programming  this  past  weekend with performances of American Ballet Theater’s  THE SLEEPING BEAUTY.   And  while DanceChannelTV didn’t make the press “A” list (opening night tickets, press information and a shot at  some video coverage)we were present for the Friday evening performance  with principals David Hallberg and Paloma Herrera.  Much has been said of the current
production choreographed by Artistic Director, Kevin McKenzie, and the third  for ABT since 1976 but apparently not the charm.  It is a busy production with a cast and sets that seem to crowd much of the dance space and which sets the action in two acts rather than the traditional three. While the production has taken its fair share of  heat that didn’t seem to prevent  the opening night Princess Aurora, Gillian Murphy, from bringing a performance that was spectacular. 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, no wonderment, no sense of mystery in what has befallen her. You get the feeling that maybe she has just been through this too many times to light herself up.

There were however others who were getting it  done. Hallberg was powerful with the best single moment in the evening being his flying entrance in the  hunting scene. You could feel perhaps  that the ballet was  going to finally ignite. The four other men in the hunting entourage, Gray Davis, Alexandre Hammoudi, Thomas Forster and Jose Sebas-tian 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 back of house intensity which was  joyful and sincere. Luciana Paris as the Fairy of Joy made you believe in her fluttering hands and quick wit, and the Fairy of Fervor, Kristi Boone, also 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, men- acing faces.  And I quite enjoyed her fiery, smoky arrival and exit thanks to some precise stagecraft  from the hazmat team of Jaucheem and Meeh. The Grand Pas de Deux finally filled the stage with dancing from Herrera that should have been on tap from the beginning.

The music was exceptional. Though never an ideal situation to have to play from the pit, it sounded full and secure.  The two act arrangement  delivered an unfortunate moment in covering the scene change to 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. It was a sad and troubling moment. 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 and heavy handed costuming that bog this show down. 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 try to dance a Mazurka in buckle-heavy high heels and it never really feels or looks right. If it’s a fairy tale you want, the presentation shouldn’t leave you asking so many questions. It only spoils the fun.

So, here’s to the season that Kaufman built. It was mostly a season dedicated to big time dance with all the bells and whistles even if some of it was decidedly backward looking and the seats weren’t always filled.  The coming season looks loaded to impress, though Ballet Nacional de Cuba , Corella Ballet Castilla y Leon and Ailey American Dance Theater have all struggled this year with flat reviews. I could hope for more imaginative programming but I’m going to hold out for something interesting from the Brazilians and Grupo Corpo when they arrive as part of the 2010-2011 season.

Steven Woodruff
American Ballet Theater’s  THE SLEEPING BEAUTY
July 16, 2010  at The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion