Nine years ago when the ill-fated Kirkland/McKenzie Sleeping Beauty premiered during the Spring season at The Metropolitan Opera House, Sarah Lane was a 22-year-old member of the corps de ballet. She had already spectacularly danced the lead in Balanchine’s Theme and Variations as well as Anne Boleyn in Christopher Wheeldon’s VIII. Her assignment for the Sleeping Beauty world premiere was Fairy Charity, a juicy opportunity for any corps dancer, but she was also cast as Princess Florine and Fairy Joy later in the run.
During the first week of July, ABT announced her promotion to soloist effective the next month. A few days later, she was assigned to learn the role of Aurora which she would perform (while still technically a corps member) opposite Herman Cornejo in Sleeping Beauty in Orange County in about two weeks time. Herman’s original partner, Xiomara Reyes, had become injured.
All reports out of Orange County cooed, purred, whistled, and raved about Sarah’s and Herman's outstanding dancing and the fabulous Rose Adagio. That night the lights on the Empire State Building may have gone green for New York balletomanes’ envy and Carabosse-worthy jealousy at Orange County’s coup in scoring this Aurora’s debut. We would have to wait until the next spring to see her.
The next season we were rewarded with her astonishing Aurora as we have been many times since then. It doesn’t matter who has designed the production: ABT's Sleeping Beauty is at her most eloquent when danced by Sarah Lane. It’s more than because of the steps. She embodies the grace, humility, restraint of ego, strength of spirit, benevolence, all of which bubbles to the surface in this particular role.
Friday evening in Alexei Ratmansky’s historical restoration of Sleeping Beauty – only a few hours after Kevin McKenzie had delivered his own annual performance of de facto public rejection of her for promotion to Principal in front of all of her colleagues – Sarah summoned her deep reserves of composure and commitment to create an Aurora whose bloom held a fragrance precisely as Ratmansky intended in his staging. No flash, no excess, no outward display of ego – just beauty awakened in every petal of this rose. The heirloom style of this production was revealed with classic elegance in Sarah’s delicate, crystalline clear shaping of the steps and the softness of their complementary port de bras.
Her handsome prince, who seemed even more handsome this year by the apparent alterations of his red hunting jacket, won Aurora through his own brilliant and evocative dancing that was at once selfless and authoritative. Herman Cornejo was exceptionally precise with his partnering on Friday. He provided Sarah with both security and freedom while establishing a rapport which convinced us that his love and admiration for Aurora and for his colleague, Sarah, were genuine. His own taxing allegro variations in Act III streamed effortlessly like rapid whitewater across riffles – keeping its turbulence well below the surface.
Earlier in the week, Haglund stopped by the Met to watch Act I of 22-year-old Cassandra Trenary’s Aurora. She was beautiful, technically secure, appropriately youthful, and radiated like few other ballerinas in ABT. Unfortunately, she generally deviated from the heirloom style prescribed by Ratmansky who carefully interpreted the choreography and style from the Stepanov notes.
While Haglund, himself, has never scoured the Stepanov notes, he would wage all on a bet that they do not include instructions for the ballerina to snap her head, whip her face back and forth, jut her chin forward toward the audience, and generally employ staccato in the upper body that would be appropriate for Mercedes in Don Quixote. Let’s be clear, the audience responded magnificently to all the head snapping and chin jutting. Wow, look at her. The audience also responded to her awesomeblés – gigantic and powerful assemblés where the legs gathered and crossed high above the stage while traveling forward - assemblés of the type that ballerinas didn’t perform until sometime around the 1950s-60s when Balanchine made them a staple. But let’s be clear, the audience just loved all the departures from the authentic Petipa Sleeping Beauty style and didn’t seem to notice that anything was askew. Nor, apparently, did NYT critic Alastair Irrelevant observe it. He, too, seemed to be caught up in the audience's enthusiasm.
Haglund’s take on all of this is that historical reconstructions do not hold any where near the commercial/audience appeal of ballets that employ evolved technique and include big jumps, multiple pirouettes with the foot in the retiré position, and higher extensions that all can be accomplished while maintaining the aesthetic harmony of classical line. While this particular production continues to acquire interpreters who can convince audiences of its heirloom beauty, ABT should be exceedingly careful about turning back the clock on any of its few successful productions such as Giselle and Swan Lake, not that Swan Lake couldn’t use a good tune-up and tire change in Act IV.
Haglund also watched Act I of Gillian Murphy’s Sleeping Beauty on Tuesday night but left at intermission due to the obnoxious behavior of a large group of comp ticketholders who had no clue that they weren’t supposed to eat potato chips, talk, and complain about not having been given as good free seats as during Romeo and Juliet. That annoyance coupled with the terrible acoustics in the side orchestra which yielded double bouncing off the walls and side overhangs of the brass notes and percussion was more than Haglund was willing to put up with after a tiring day. Gillian danced a secure, seemingly effortless Act I with joy and lightness. It's not our favorite production for her, but she certainly respected the style to the letter.
Gillian, along with Sarah, had the absolute best possible team of Princes for her Rose Adagio. Alexandre Hammoudi, Thomas Forster, Blaine Hoven, and Roman Zhurbin were as big and bold as the front line of the Dallas Cowboys. Roman as the Indian Prince sported strands of pearls and a pink-plumed turban that would have been the envy of Carnac the Magnificent.
Sorry, couldn’t resist that. These four guys were incredible and made sure that both Auroras shone brightly in the magnificent climax of balances and promenades.
Another Met Season is finished with the lows outnumbering the highs. It seems that more and more of the core audience is attending fewer and fewer performances. ABT’s answer to that is to paper the house night after night with people who will never spend their own money on tickets. It is as though ABT honestly doesn’t know how to build its core audience. Hint: it starts with building internal quality rather than substituting purchased celebrity. But we don’t expect ABT to ever wake up to this fact, not in a hundred years.
Our final H.H. Pump Bump Award is bestowed upon Sarah Lane who has the patience of Job and a bottomless reservoir of tenacity in addition to all of the artistic qualities of a magnificent classical ballerina.