High level wind shears ain’t got nothin’ on those women in the New York City Ballet corps de ballet. Whoooooosh! When they went flying downstage in their lines of ballonés in the Vision Scene of Sleeping Beauty, their cross winds blew right under the seats of the folks in the front row and lifted up their fannies, oh, musta been a good six inches into the air. Folks were surprised, that’s for sure. Couldn’t tell from their squeals whether they liked it or not, though. Not some kind of alternative fact, this sure ain’t. It all happened two nights in a row this week during the first two performances of a two-week run of Peter Martins’ adaptation of Petipa’s Sleeping Beauty.
Truth be told, this production is a sort of fancy drive-thru Sleeping Beauty. You hand over your money and out the drive-up window comes your bag of dance food. You get just about everything in the bag: big burger, fries, napkins, utensils, little packets of salt, pepper, mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard. The food is hot. It fills the belly and satisfies the hunger. It momentarily deadens any other cravings, too. But then those cravings gradually re-awaken (after a gentle kiss from the memory), and you’re left with pangs for Petipa squareness, curving limbs, and a general tidiness with baroque-ish details. This may not be Haglund’s best ever usage of literary device, but hopefully you'll get the picture.
Truth be told again, Haglund has enough love in his heart for many different Sleeping Beauty productions. So long as the stagers don’t aim to make fun of the ballet or dishonor it in any way by adjusting the story line to their liking, they can count on ole Hag in a seat. This NYCB run will see him in the theater five, possibly six times. It is a wonderful two hours and six minutes of gorgeous music, gorgeous costumes and scenery, and plenty of brilliant dancing.
On opening night, Ashley Bouder’s Aurora in Act I was more of the bold 16-year-old Bouder we recall than a fine-mannered young royal. In place of modesty, there was daring. In place of debutante-style restraint, there was eagerness to see just what each prince had to offer her and an equal eagerness to show what she had to offer them. The second night’s Aurora, Megan Fairchild, was a little more on the mark with the story’s character. Rather than burning, she glistened. Of course, the steps were a non-issue for both of these superb dancers. Ashley’s movement was valiant and charging while Megan’s was perceptibly more shaded and nuanced. Each completed the Rose Adagio without incident. However, it was very business-like in each case. Aurora never looked at her princes’ faces and never acknowledged them after each balance. Instead she smiled out at the audience as if to say, “Did you see that?”
Where each of these ballerinas scored her greatest achievement of the night was in the Act II Vision Scene. What a surprise it was to see these two allegro warrior-women soften their styles to embrace the dreamy quality of Aurora’s dancing. On both nights, those lingering battement fouettes where Aurora turned away from Désiré and disappeared among the Nymphs were as tender as could be. We must mention how beautifully shaped and musical Megan’s manège of coupés jetés en tournant were. The accents were so “up” that they were heavenly.
The Act III Wedding Pas de Deux was danced securely on both nights but with different demeanor. While Megan’s Aurora at this point in the story seemed maturely refined yet still youthful, Ashley’s Aurora was more of the Act I adolescent who was now gloating over winning her prince. Neither Aurora’s fish dives came close to the smoothness that the experts at the Royal Ballet routinely demonstrate. It seemed to take two long counts to get the first leg up and then the second leg up. Given the dancers’ NYCB pedigree of inherent speed, one would think that this step would have been a highlight.
Our Prince Désirés (Andrew Veyette on Wednesday; Joaquin De Luz on Thursday) were quite simply outstanding. They each assumed the Prince persona with exceptional grace and authority. Both were technically primed for their evenings and were in complete command of all of the challenges. At the conclusion of their variations, they knew exactly how to land on one knee and throw their faces into the spotlight like the explanation point at the end of a sentence. Seeing these two veterans (17 years for Veyette; 20 years on the stage for De Luz) skillfully pull such high quality theatrical performances out of their tights made for two very gratifying evenings of dance.
Both of our Lilac Fairies (Sara Mearns on Wednesday; Teresa Reichlen on Thursday) brought luminous beauty to their roles. For Haglund’s money, Lilac Fairy is the best role in the NYCB repertory for Sara Mearns. Calm, serene, with no contrived angsty in her pants, and respectfully cognizant of of the boundaries of classical port de bras, Sara was the benevolent authority that one wished would show up in several of her other roles. The Lilac Fairy tutu with its generous silhouette, gradient shading in the bodice, and little fluttering caps at the shoulders balanced out Sara’s physique like no other costume that she regularly wears. Haglund looked forward to her every entrance on the stage.
In her debut as Carabosse on Thursday, Sara sketched out the character nicely and will surely fill in the lines more boldly with each performance. But “for the record” as the New York Times is fond of saying, the crowd did not “roar" for her at bows as the NYT reported while making note that Sara “hugged” the NYT reporter before going out for her bow. Honestly, we’re beginning to think that NYT’s new front page ad campaign “Truth is hard to find” is a clear reference to its coverage of dance celebrity (it no longer writes ballet performance criticism). Truth is hard to find in the New York Times these days, very hard to find.
Maria Kowroski’s Carabosse on opening night was a hoot and worth any price to see. Scheming, lovably evil, this Cruella de Vil was artful in every sense.
The evenings included excellent fairy work from the lower ranks of the company, too. Lydia Wellington and Megan Johnson as the Fairies of Generosity bloomed with benevolence. Emilie Gerrity was majestic as the Fairy of Tenderness. Sara Adams and Alston Macgill sparkled as Fairies of Vivacity.
The Jewels Fairies were less consistent. Lauren King and Sara Adams as the Emeralds, Ashley Laracey as the Ruby and Ashley Hod as the Diamond were bright and elegant. But, good heavens, what is going on with Mr. Gold Fairy, and what exactly is the choreography supposed to be? On opening night, Chase Finlay blew turns a la seconde and pirouettes while on the second night, Anthony Huxley didn’t even attempt them. Anthony also seemed to struggle with the stationary beat requirements (entrechat si_ as opposed to entrechat six) in the Bluebird variation on Thursday night whereas Daniel Ulbricht sliced through his variation with machete sharpness on opening night. Both Princess Florines (Erica Pereira on Wednesday, Brittany Pollack on Thursday) were excellent, but Erica inhabits this role probably better than anyone has ever at NYCB.
A word about the Jesters – it’s a brief sequence, and on both nights was danced superbly. Opening night was led by Ulbricht and Thursday night was led by Troy Schumacher. Of particular joy, however, was the return in meaningful fashion of Joseph Gordon who was a last minute replacement for Sebastian Villarini-Velez on Thursday with Schumacher and a nicely animated Harrison Ball. It was great to see him back and can’t wait to see what is in store for him during the spring season.
All in all, the roses are in pretty good shape at NYCB this season. The orchestra had a little wind-bleat on opening night, but otherwise gave an energetic, emotional reading of Tschaikovsky’s jewel on both nights. Speaking of roses – blue roses, that is – Sally Field is brilllllliant in the brand new production of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie that opened Tuesday night in previews at the Belasco Theatre. Thank goodness NYCB gives us balletomanes a night off every once in a while so that we can see other stuff.
The H.H. Pump Bump Award is bestowed upon Andrew Veyette and Joaquin De Luz who are still hoofing it and racing at full stride after all these years.