Sunday evening Haglund was sitting in front of the TV watching CSI Miami while perusing the ABT calendar and contemplating the upcoming performances of Sleeping Beauty. Suddenly he heard David Caruso's Horatio Caine say in his low, sexy voice, "Gentlemen, it's called Blunt. Force. Trauma." Then, the faux Who screamed "Ye-e-o-ow! We won't get fooled again!" ABT's Sleeping Beauty no longer cries out for a Crime Scene Investigator like it initially did a few years ago. As the result of rethinking and revisions, it's no longer the balletic felony it once was. However, while it has some prettiness and some authentic steps, its appeal remains superficial. There isn't much drama in the ballet Sleeping Beauty – okay, there isn't any drama in Sleeping Beauty – but there should be enchantment, and that's what's lacking here. It seems to be a ballet with too many Cliff's Notes summaries.
This production isn't the story of Sleeping Beauty so much as it's based on some of the themes of Sleeping Beauty. By all accounts that Haglund has read, the Tchaikovsky score doesn't tell the story of Sleeping Beauty either; it was based on Ivan Vsevolozhsky's abbreviated scenario which had been chopped and mixed with the idea of making an audience friendly ballet. So, if one approaches the production with the idea that it's not the story but just some themes, one will be less disappointed. Disappointment could have been further mitigated by scheduling Sleeping Beauty earlier in the season and not having it follow dramatic heavies like Swan Lake or Giselle or Camellias. The unfortunate scheduling brings the entire season to a weak and wimpy close.
Enough said about the production and choreography which only exist for the benefit of dancers, anyway. So, let's move on to the dancing which last night was glorious.
This opening night cast was among the richest offered all season. Veronika Part was a stunning Aurora – radiant and full of confidence. Each of her performances of Sleeping Beauty reveals a stronger, more capable Veronika. So, one wonders why she is not called upon to do more than one performance during the week rather than ABT offering multiple performances to a guest artist. It seems, regrettably, that ABT sees its primary role these days as helping guest artists improve their interpretations and dancing instead of the company's own dancers.
In the Rose Adagio, Veronika was secure and composed, and she graciously acknowledged each Prince as he passed her hand to the next one. Her held balances following each promenade were modest, culminating in a beautiful and triumphant arabesque. Gotta say that the four Princes (Roddy Doble, Grant DeLong, Alexandre Hammoudi, Vitali Krauchenka) should be proud of their extraordinary partnering. Vitali Krauchenka stood behind Veronika and smoothly rotated her through the pirouettes like he was channeling Marcelo Gomes. All of the Princes were so intensely focused as they sent their good vibes into Veronika during the promenades that there was never any doubt that she would conquer this most difficult section.
The Vision Scene in Act II did manage to muster up some enchantment. Marcelo Gomes was the troubled Prince Désiré who envisioned the beautiful Sleeping Beauty and had such difficulty choosing which fork in the forest's path to follow. He would sense her presence and reach for her, but the Lilac Fairy was always there to remind him that he must declare his true love and commitment to Aurora first. When he finally felt the touch of her hands to his shoulders, he realized that his journey toward happiness was nearly complete.
The Wedding PdD was as royal as could be. Nothing flashy. Nothing outlandish. Just an enormous amount of elegance and grand partnering. The sight of Veronika's never-ending legs assembling in the fish dives while Marcelo maneuvered her nearly upside down was stunning in its beauty and architecture.
The evening included Stella Abrera's extraordinary performance as the Lilac Fairy. Luminous, reflective, brilliant, warm – but with a cold eye toward Carabosse – this Lilac Fairy held beautiful breathing balances and commanded the story with her graciousness and perfect classical port de bras. Beautifully centered pirouettes that resisted ending their balances, perfectly placed arabesque fouettes, and exquisite musical phrasing marked her performance. Stella will make a truly remarkable Aurora this fall at The Royal New Zealand Ballet. The rest of the world will soon appreciate her as much as we do, even if Kevin McKenzie doesn't. His refusal to appoint her as principal now borders on the cruelty of Carabosse.
The Fairies of Sincerity, Charity, Joy and Valor (Hee Seo, Isabella Boylston, Renata Pavam, Yuriko Kajiya, Misty Copeland) managed their variations very well. Yuriko's Fairy of Joy was particularly engaging, and she didn't go over the top with the hand fluttering.
Daniil Simkin and Sarah Lane were truly wonderful as Princess Florine and The Bluebird, both achieving artistry at a principal level although it is clear, unfortunately, that there is pressure to exaggerate the tricks of the trade like some of the less elegant guest artists have done. During a supported developpe in a la seconde, Sarah held her leg so high and let go of Daniil's hand for such a long balance that one heard a loud gasp of disbelief come from someone standing in the wings. Yes, it was impressive, but it would have been much prettier with a more strongly pointed foot and a slightly lower leg. But these days, given the uninformed focus of the press and the lack of integrity in the artistic direction of the company, it's understandable how that pressure to imitate the less artistic guest stars might win out. Daniil's brisé volé sequence was crystal clear with the most quiet landings Haglund has ever witnessed – a beautiful piece of work. The partnering went very well but for a little blip at the very end. These two look extremely attractive together. Somehow when dancing with Sarah, Daniil looks more mature and he has a sense of weight and strength in his posture that conveys elegance more than youthful wizardry. It's all very appealing.
The Corps de Ballet was essentially perfect last night. The Lilac Fairy Attendants, Princess Aurora's Friends, The Knights, and The Villagers could not have been better. Regardless of the overall merits of this production, it makes one realize just how skilled, talented, and harmonious ABT's corps de ballet is and how fortunate we are to see such beautiful ethnic and physical diversity in its ranks. They have been a pleasure to watch from Day 1 of the season.
The Lilac Versace Pump Bump Award goes to Stella Abrera for continuing to deliver such uncompromising classical perfection and artistry in all her roles, but especially as The Lilac Fairy. She will be a truly beautiful Aurora in a few months. New Zealand's gain is ABT's loss.