Festival Ballet Theatre is continuing its ambitious season of dance at the Irvine Barclay Theatre with its presentation of two performances of Sleeping Beauty. The company under Artistic Director, Salwa Rizkalla, is closing in on 25 years of presenting dance for Southland audiences.  After numerous excursions into the big time ballet repertory with traditional stagings of Le Corsaire, The Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty, Rizkalla and her growing company continue to be a big part of the ballet scene in Orange County.

There is a lot to like about Festival Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty. The company seems to have an inexhaustible supply of professional and pre-professional dancers who populate this production with generous and likeable performances.  And though the production can seem to reach too far at times for the forces at hand, Rizkalla mostly manages to bring to the stage an efficient and well organized version of the ballet.

What seemed out of balance however was the diminished presence of men (there were only four covering the important secondary roles) amidst the legions of girls who over balanced the feminine elements of the production. But the good news was that so many of them were excellent, if at times cautious with their dancing. Distinguishing herself early on was Tyler Donatelli (aptly named the Fairy of Happiness) in the Aurora retinue. Her solo turn in Act I set a standard for variations with big personality and beautiful technique. Especially memorable were her high-flicking back attitudes and buoyant on-stage demeanor. In general, Rizkalla’s corps de ballet managed clean and quiet dancing en pointe throughout.

Also making well turned out impressions were the eight girls in the Garland Waltz which looked spacious and well deployed on the small stage at the Barclay. Also credit Tara Gusman with a secure performance as the Lilac Fairy. She anchored the ballet throughout with her clean and dependable role as the par excellence demi soloist.

And while the costuming looked first rate the generic sets and lighting proved somewhat disappointing. The ballet played with one intermission. The traditional three act arrangement allows for the right kind of development and preparation for the surfeit of dancing in Act III.  It seemed a missed opportunity in a production that mostly hewed closely to standard staging relying on the Petipa model. A number of musical cuts also left some scenes truncated.

Providing star power were American Ballet Theatre soloists, Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky as Princess Aurora and Prince Florimund.  It is a weakness of the ballet that Florimund has so little time on stage. More is the pity that Mr. Beloserkovsky chose to cut the big solo from the Grand Pas de Deux in Friday’s evening performance.  But what dancing there was from them was exceptional.  Mr. Beloserkovsky makes a big impression on stage and handled the miming in the encounter with Aurora’s apparition with effective, believable acting. Ms Dvorovenko distinguished herself early on in the Rose Adagio with secure partnering from the four courtiers, AJ Abrams, Jason Glover, Tyler Nelson and Evan Swenson. Dvorovenko and Beloserkovsk were also brilliant in the diving catches of the Grand Pas de Deux. The courtiers all returned in the Act III variations. Particularly good were Swensen as Puss-in-Boots and Ashley Ike as the irrepressible White Cat. Edgar Nikolyan gave a dependable, high flying  performance as The Bluebird but had some rescuing to manage at the conclusion of his variation. Nelson and Donatelli were the evening’s best matched  duo in the Act III divertisements as the Wolf and Red Riding Hood. Many of the female dancers doubled in numerous roles throughout the evening.

I had hoped for more from the closing Mazurka, which seemed clearly under populated. It came as a letdown to Act III which needs to finish with much more momentum.  With so many dancers at hand, a little borrowing could have brought the act to a more satisfying conclusion. While the miming and secondary acting parts for the King, Queen and Cattalbutte were effectively covered they paled by comparison to Alex Kalinin’s Carabosse. He made the most out of his role with a big presentation and a face and gestures that could easily be read from the cheaper seats. Having stage presence means you have to love being there in the first place. For him it was all about communicating, and he made it happen in spades.


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