Moose and Haglund met on Thursday while sleeping overnight in the Minneapolis airport – much thanks to Delta. Moose was coming out of the gift shop as Haglund was going in. You may recognize this big fella as the former Premier Mooseur with the Grand Marais de Caribou Ballet upstate near the Minnesota-Canadian border. He once filled in as Prince Désiré for Guillaume Côté, on short notice, and so he was keenly interested in hearing about ABT’s new Sleeping Beauty.
While some aspects of the opening night premiere left Haglund disappointed, the second performance on Wednesday evening left him in a state of bliss.
Stepping into the role of Prince Désiré with short notice, Alex Hammoudi made an impressive debut opposite Gillian Murphy’s Aurora. You wouldn’t think that legs as long as his would be able to move with the speed and clarity that they did, but they looked phenomenal slicing through the allegro in his Act III variation. All of a sudden this week, Prince Désiré seems to be a lot more interesting to watch. The white knickers, the long red hunting coat, the big hat, the white wig - they all suited Hammoudi who wore them with flair. The only aspect of his character that needs work is what to do with his facial expressions when he is not actually dancing.
Seeing Hammoudi get the chance to prove himself in this role was a big factor in Haglund’s decision to make the trip out to Costa Mesa. There is no doubt that Hammoudi has fully earned his place in the starting lineup at the Met this spring. In our opinion, he should dance one of the performances opposite Gillian Murphy while Marcelo gives Paloma Herrera a fitting farewell in Sleeping Beauty. Will ABT even think about doing that? Probably not - they’ve got too many indistinct, ordinary, and mediocre guest artists on their Wish List to do the right thing for the company’s own artists.
Gillian Murphy’s traditional Aurora was a sight for sore eyes that felt like they had been poked out by Diana Vishneva the night before. Every aspect of the performance was better: the technique, the acting, the nuanced characterization, and Gillian even looked better in the blond wig. When Aurora arrived, there was no silliness, no goofy wide-eyed effort to act her way out of technical challenges as we saw the night before. This was a true princess of beauty and modesty, who had been schooled in royal manners, knew that she must be polite to everyone, and knew that she was expected to live up to certain standards set by her royal family. Her initial pas de chats from one side to the other were delicate, traditional, and brilliantly precise. No flashy saute de chats here as in other productions.
Gillian’s Rose Adagio was exquisite, and yes, during the balances, Aurora did acknowledge each of her suitors. In the initial pique/soutenu/developpe, the modest extensions began slowly up the supporting leg and opened as though the music really mattered while the arms, gentle and rounded, complimented the entire picture. She displayed a warm graciousness toward each of the princes at each interaction on the diagonal as she stepped into a modest penche arabesque. Again, she stepped flat instead of rolling through the foot - apparently we are going to have to live with that in this production, but it’s much less satisfactory and much less musical than how Aurora handles that section in Anthony Dowell’s production for the Royal Ballet.
Aurora’s variation was far more traditional than what we saw the night before. Aurora danced a few emboites backwards on the diagonal and then presented a pretty and modest double pirouette. Repeat. Repeat. There was no Trocking-up this section the way Vishneva did the night before in her “customized" choreography. The little ronde de jambes with hops on pointe that moved forward on the diagonal were effortless.
In Act II Gillian’s bourees and port de bras shimmered with beauty and spoke of tenderness. In the PdD, the lifts, which we originally misidentified as being in Act III on opening night, still looked too Giselle-ish but didn’t seem to be as out of place as the night before when the airborne effect was grossly maximized.
The Act III variation included the modest leg heights and sissonnes that most every version uses. There was a difference in the way Aurora did those en pointe steps downstage on the diagonal where she dragged the back pointe into fifth position. The front leg didn’t developpe to move forward so much as it just slightly bent at the knee. On opening night, Vishneva’s front leg was straight which made the whole sequence look stilted, awkward, and unpretty.
Our Lilac Fairy on Wednesday evening, Stella Abrera, NAILED her variation with grace and precision – perfectly navigating through those hellish battement fouettes and en dedans pirouettes with her remarkable balletic compass. Haglund held his breath and didn’t want to make a scene by squealing, but then some guy up in the side tier let out a big bravo at the end of Stella's variation thereby freeing Haglund to exult, too. Her beauty, kindness, and majestic powers calmed the kingdom. When she diluted Carabosse’s nasty spell of death to a 100 year nap, the offended fairy (Craig Salstein) reacted indignantly. With a face only a mother could love, Carabosse raged against the Lilac Fairy’s intervention but it was futile. Lilac Fairy would win, and yes, they would become friends and attend the wedding together.
We must mention the lovely job that Christine Shevchenko did as the Diamond Fairy. Sparkling, joyous, and brilliantly danced, this variation finally looked like something other than klutzy. Here’s a ballerina who can land a big jump softly.
Courtney Lavine turned the character dancing of Cinderella into a star turn. Wow, does she ever have “it” when given center stage. Calvin Royal was gallant as her Prince Fortune. At the premiere both Gemma Bond and Sterling Baca also gave outstanding performances in these roles.
As at the premiere, the Lilac Fairy Attendants, Maids of Honor and Precious Stone Fairies were tops. Melanie Hamrick as the Sapphire Fairy in the world premiere and Candide Fairy on the second night danced radiantly.
This Sleeping Beauty is certainly a mammoth production. The costumes are operatic in opulence and size which is something that we’re not really used to seeing in ballet, but still quite stunning for the most part. The most troubling aspect of the production is the customization of the choreography that gives Aurora multiple personalities that depend on who is dancing her. Don’t we already have enough problems in this world without giving Sleeping Beauty a dissociative identity disorder?
This H.H. Pump Bump Award, made of lilac gold, is bestowed upon Stella Abrera whose Lilac Fairy could not have been more perfect.