NYCB's Sleeping Beauty opened it's two week run last evening to a nearly sold out house. In fact, most of the performances are approaching sold out status. Why such box office success? Is it the magic of the story, the magic of the music, the magic of the dancing, or perhaps the magic of the scenery and costumes? All of these things are important, of course, and they combine to create artistic success. But the box office goes bonkers over Sleeping Beauty for the same reason it goes bonkers over NYCB's Nutcracker : the inclusion in the performance of roaming packs of little theater animals who fully realize their upstaging gifts and their powers of persuasion to get their extensive networks of adults in their communities to open their wallets to buy entire families a night out at the ballet. This production uses more than 50 children from the School of American Ballet including the approximately three foot tall Little Red Riding Hood. That translates into a mighty reach into the local economy.
The production, Petipa-based with choreographic contributions from Balanchine and Peter Martins, moves at the expected NYCB-swift pace with little time for applause after each dancing segment. The costumes and scenery are sumptuous and represent a lavish departure from the usual sparse production values of NYCB's ballets. The use of backscreen projections to convey the castle, first from afar and then closer as the story and the audience approach the castle grounds, is a wonderful use of modern technology to help bring a very old story to life.
Megan Fairchild and Joaquin De Luz gave committed performances as Princess Aurora and Prince Désiré. We were convinced of the sincerity of Désiré's quest for ideal love and his belief that he had found it in Aurora – all helped by De Luz's mastery in dramatically punctuating the ends of his musical phrases. Landing on one knee with his face turned toward the sky and his hands clutching his heart, he made the audience feel the depth of his commitment.
Megan's interpretation of Aurora succeeded where youthfulness was expected but didn't convey the elegance of a young royal. This is such a tough role to dance from both technical and interpretive standpoints. Throw in all of the expectations created by great Auroras of recent generations – Viviana Durante, Cynthia Gregory, Larissa Lezhnina to name a few – and the bar has been set almost unrealistically high. Megan aced the technical challenges, no question about that. When the leg opened in developpe to the side, it was high and it was truly to the side position, but it wasn't turned out as it should be in classical technique. Consequently, the whole shape of the position lacked the expected harmony, and the top of the foot was often more visible than the sole. This seems to be okay in Balanchine ballets; not okay in Sleeping Beauty.
Sara Mearns as the Lilac Fairy was astonishingly beautiful. My, my, my, does she wear restraint and understatement well. With lovely, fully formed, expansive port de bras along with a graciousness that isn't a requirement in her other rep, Sara calmed the kingdom following Maria Kowroski's delicious Carabosse's evil doing and set in motion the fairytale ending.
Ana Sophia Scheller and Antonio Carmena danced the roles of Princess Florine and The Bluebird. Haglund has never seen a dancer in any Sleeping Beauty production who looked good in The Bluebird costume – no matter what the shade of blue. The blue tights and shoes are always uncomplimentary to the dancer's line while he's killing himself trying to beat his legs and jump high. Bluebird flew about pretty well last night, and while the pas de poisson had good elevation, the shapes in the air were less than clear. Princess Florine, somewhat under-employed in her role, ahr-tik-yuh-ley-tid every step with her gorgeous feet and maximum turnout while every inch of her upper body delivered the Petipa message. Haglund is excited about her upcoming debut as Aurora next week.
Erica Pereira was brilliant as Ruby with strong jumps and cutting clarity. As Gold, Chase Finlay finally showed us that he can manage good elevation in his jumps and delivered exciting finishes as well. Lauren King was a vivid Emerald, full of life. Teresa Reichlen's Diamond had some difficult moments. The grand jetes to the stopped arabesque position were clunky. Her variation seemed a little frenetic as opposed to sparkly which may have been from trying to dance the steps in too large a fashion.
The White Cat and Puss in Boots, Lauren Lovette and Adrian Danchig-Waring, were feline fantastic. The sound of her little slaps at him resonated to the upper rings.
The Wolf, Joshua Thew, and his Little Red Riding Hood, Claire Abraham, really did nearly steal the show with their chase through the "forest" (cleverly represented by SAB students) wherein The Wolf ended up knocking down the "trees" to finally catch LRRH.
The corps de ballet and the various fairies were all lovely. Everyone seemed focused on moving through the positions with classical clarity. Their arms, which don't always look elegant, did so tonight.
The H.H. Pump Bump Award, a Diego Dolcini multifaceted stiletto, is bestowed upon Sara Mearns for her graciousness and elegance as the Lilac Fairy.