Our Stella Abrera balancing on the clam shell (and releasing her partner's hand exactly on the musical cue) in Sleeping Beauty Act II courtesy of a perfect set-up by our dashing Alex Hammoudi. We are eternally grateful to akouavi_ for this video:
Thanks to mayssafl for this video of the thunderous ovation from the sold-out house for Sarah Lane and Herman Cornejo:
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.
There is an abundance of gold in Alexei Ratmansky’s production of Sleeping Beauty. Many if not most of the court costumes designed by Richard Hudson flaunt the excess of wealth (without the underlying stigma of evilness) through generous bold gold designs and detailing. But gold has other meanings besides prosperity and extravagance. It is associated with the sun, optimism, the melting away of obstacles, justice, achievement, high quality, and wisdom with age. The gold cast on the stage last night embodied all of those precious elements.
Stella Abrera, Marcelo Gomes, and Veronika Part, in a performance that marked both Stella’s 20th Anniversary and the first time she has danced Princess Aurora at this particular company, gave us the old-school/best school, 24 karat version of Sleeping Beauty last night. Stella and Veronika on stage at the same time billowing their classical port de bras is more intoxicating than 176-proof vodka on an empty stomach. Your eyes go goo-goo at the first sip.
Act by act, Stella transformed her Aurora from young royal to ethereal vision to beaming bride with clarity. In Act I she bounded out onto the stage with royal grace and as much freshness as a young royal is permitted. A soft glow enveloped her throughout her variation. The ronde de jambe hops, the changement on pointe to double pirouette with the foot below the calf, the curtsies in attitude on pointe that she bourreed back and forth to each Prince – all performed exquisitely with supple softness in the feet. The challenges of the Rose Adagio nearly bested her but her grip on the importance of the moment and on her Princes' arms was unyielding in the attitude positions and promenades. She saved her one balance for the final arabesque. Lanky arms and legs (Abrera, Part, Kent, Vishneva, Lopatkina, Zakharova) burden Auroras more than do the compact physiques of the likes of Herrera or Cojocaru, but it’s not impossible for the long & lankies to soar in this section - Darcey Bussell did, although some might not characterize her as all that lanky. We wish we could go to Paris in September to check in on Stella’s next performances of Aurora…
Our Lilac Fairy’s Act I variation was glorious in its spaciousness and grandeur. Veronika performed the variation known as the Marie Petipa variation that includes grand jetes and more luxurious movements than the one done by other Lilac Fairies. Their variation excludes big jumps but inserts battement fouettes that evolve into en dedans pirouettes.
The Act II Vision Scene, performed to some of the most beautiful phrases ever composed by Tchaikovsky, took our breath away. An Aurora of the dreamiest, most limpid quality, Stella was in her element most in this act. The overhead horizontal lifts by Marcelo made her look like she floated up over him by herself. In retrospect, if these lifts were in the Stepanov notes for Sleeping Beauty and were frequently performed early on, this may be where the Bolshoi got the idea to insert the stirringly beautiful lifts into Act II of Giselle in the mid-20th century.
A highlight of this act was Aurora’s step into the shell and her extraordinary long balance in arabesque. Her prince set her up by holding her hand high and then turned and walked away with a smug smile that said, “She’s got this, folks, just watch.” And yes, she certainly did.
The Act III Wedding Celebration showed our couple in blissfully beautiful classical form. Marcelo knocked out a chain of a dozen brisés volés while traveling on the diagonal like he ate them for breakfast everyday. The fish dives were smooth with the final fish pose simply and quietly effortless – it almost snuck up on us.
There were fine performances in the supporting cast as well. Devon Teuscher’s Candide Fairy and Luciana Paris’ Fleur de farine were highlights. Why we’re not seeing Luciana in more high profile roles is a mystery. She’s got the goods; she’s got the experience. Not all of our princes were optimal height for Stella in the Rose Adagio, although Sterling Baca in his three roles last night (Fairy Cavalier, Italian Prince in the Rose Adagio, Prince Fortune) made a good case for our getting an apartment in Philly where he is headed for next season. What a loss that will be to ABT, but who couldn’t see it coming – besides McKenzie?
Christine Shevchenko glistened brilliantly and quietly as the Diamond Fairy. What a beautiful dancer, but we wish her arms were longer so that we could think about her as Odette. Skylar Brandt, in her debut, and Gabe Stone Shayer as Princess Florine and Bluebird really made it all look too easy. Exceptionally well-coordinated not just in their dancing but in their bright dispositions and sunny joy of performing. Stephanie Williams was exquisite as the Gold Fairy - her aplomb, quiet happiness, and extremely respectful technique are always a joy to watch.
Within the corps, it was hard not to notice the extraordinary gifts of Courtney Lavine, Kaho Ogawa, Blaine Hoven and Patrick Frenette. We’re happy to see Courtney getting a few opportunities and appearing more downstage in the corps. Those long limbs are to die for and there is a softness in the way her feet meet the floor that reminds us of Stella and of Julie Kent.
As the anniversary celebration unfolded at the close of the performance, we wished we had witnessed this Aurora five, six, or ten years ago along with the accumulated artistry that comes with regularly performing a role. It’s not that we couldn’t have; it’s that we were denied the opportunity. As Stella’s colleagues, former colleagues, and husband delivered bouquet after bouquet to her on stage, we were struck especially by one. Gillian Murphy carried a bouquet of huge golden-yellow sunflowers to her friend. Sunflowers signify adoration, loyalty and longevity – our thoughts as well.
(Thanks to Angelica for the photo. More fab photos by Kent Becker at NotMyDayJobPhotography.)
Alexei Ratmansky’s The Golden Cockerel, which ABT premiered last night at the Met, was more like a good staging for the opera of the same title than a stand alone ballet. It lacked choreographic invention and relied heavily, too much so, on the brilliant Ballet Russes-worthy costumes and scenery by Richard Hudson. Frequently, the choreography seemed inserted obligatorily as is often seen in operas.
It was easy to admire the ideas behind the production, but truthfully, if this were on Broadway, it would close after a few preview performances. Producers would honestly read the paying audience’s tepid response, admit their failures, cut their losses, and move on to the next idea. Originally created by Ratmansky for the Royal Danish Ballet and not particularly successful there, The Golden Cockerel was reworked and pumped up with more dance for ABT.
Based on Pushkin’s fairytale and Michel Fokine’s original ballet, the story tells of a threatened Tsar who acquires a magic cockerel from a wizard/sorcerer/astrologer. The cockerel has the ability to crow when danger is close by. The Tsar is so grateful to the astrologer that he promises him anything that he wants. The astrologer decides to take time to think about what he wants in return for the cockerel. The Tsar rides off into battle, discovers an enticing queen of questionable motives, and takes her home to be his wife. The astrologer decides that he wants the queen as his payment from the Tsar. The Tsar refuses and bongs the astrologer with his sceptre seemingly killing him - but not really. The magic cockerel then returns to peck the Tsar to death for failing to honor his bargain with the astrologer. It’s a fairy tale with obvious political undertones relating to early 20th century Russia. The original opera was banned for a long time in Russia, in part, because it made the Tsar out to be a bumbling fool.
Ratmansky took some liberties with the story text in order to bring it around full circle. In a prelude, he showed the astrologer observing the flying queen and contemplating how he might go about capturing her. Everything that followed was apparently a “set-up” for the astrologer to acquire the queen, a set-up which ultimately failed him.
While we have learned to temper our expectations for Ratmansky’s new ABT works with the realism of the past, we could not resist hoping for an engaging production along the lines of the Massine/Picasso/Satie Parade which was originally created for the Ballet Russes and lovingly recreated by the City Center Joffrey Ballet during the last century. The star then, as was the star last night, was Gary Chryst who last evening returned to the stage for a remarkable performance in the character role of Tsar Doden.
Like Picasso's costumes and scenery in Parade, Hudson went for the fantastical in The Golden Cockerel. A huge wooden horse rearing on its hind legs was rolled to mid-stage for the Tsar to mount and ride into battle. Huge stick puppets traveled the width of the back of the stage. Panels hanging at the back of the stage and on the side depicted a brightly colored kingdom complete with flowers. Here’s the front curtain which greeted the audience members as they took their seats:
The corps de ballet’s costumes were operatic, traditional Russian folk costumes designed more for spectacle and less for dancing.
Skylar Brandt as the Golden Cockerel dispatched the most unique choreography of the evening with exceptional skill. Her bird’s halting mechanical movements made it clear that she was not a real bird at all, but a creation by the wizard/sorcerer/astrologer. Even though she had been gifted to the Tsar, her allegiance remained with her creator who always controlled her.
Cory Stearns scored a big win by completely disappearing into his astrologer character – hunched over under a black cape with his face made unrecognizable by prosthetics. His eyes glistened under the stage lights like they rarely do in his other roles. Evilness becomes him.
Veronika Part, as the Queen of questionable motives, acquired most of the classical dancing duties and conveyed her character with beautiful theatrical detailing. Unfortunately, her choreography could not rise above its dullness and cliched moments. (Must we see in every ballet a dancer sliding up from the floor while being held under the arms by two other dancers?)
Jeffrey Cirio and Joseph Gorak played the Tsar’s sons who end up killing each other in battle. When dancing their allegro side by side, Gorak’s character was clearly the most remarkable dancer of the two sons - whether Ratmansky intended to show that or not. Unfortunately, it appears this season that he is spending a lot of time on the back burner while McKenzie tries to push the imported dancer from Boston Ballet at us. Cirio isn’t bad, but his classicism pales in comparison to Gorak’s. And Cirio is too small to dance effectively with most of the company’s ballerinas.
Christine Shevchenko as the lead Persian woman made an impact with her brief appearance and vivid dancing.
Roman Zhurbin gave 150% to his character role of General Polkan who tried to advise Tsar Doden, but there wasn’t a lot for him to do.
Martine van Hamel as the Housekeeper to the Tsar tried to find comedy in her character but there wasn’t much available for her to work with – even Carol Burnett would have a problem with the role.
The dancing for the corps looked very familiar in places – Ratmansky defaulted back to ideas used in Bright Stream, Little Humpbacked Horse, etc. Even the opening scene with the Tsar’s chair/throne squarely in the middle of the stage seemed to recall the centered chair in the Little Humpbacked Horse.
It isn’t likely that ABT will have the discipline of a Broadway producer and cut its losses on this ballet, but it should. The Golden Cockerel, HereAfter, Pied Piper, Dorian, Tempest, Firebird, VIII — all were good ideas that couldn’t be realized at the time for one reason or another. Now that we’re reminded that Gary Chryst is still around, it would be a shame not to invite him to stage Massine’s Parade, particularly since he has a direct link to the choreographer. How wonderful it would be to see Chryst return regularly to character roles at ABT. What a wizard in Petrushka he would be to Arron Scott, Patrick Frenette and possibly Simkin in the title role.
The H.H. Pump Bump Award, hand painted by artists of Dolce and Gabbana, is bestowed upon Richard Hudson for his magical scenery and costumes. They don’t look like computer-drawn or photoshopped product. While we may have been fooled, they look like art ––honestly created like during the time of the Ballet Russes.
Haglund revisited the Shostakovich Trilogy last night where Joseph Gorak made an early debut in Symphony #9 subbing for an injured Herman Cornejo. Gorak was on the calendar to dance the role for the first time on Friday. He gave an inspired performance that was a different interpretation than Cornejo's or Jared Matthews’ brilliant performances during the last run of this ballet, but it was also wonderfully valid. His character brought an unwavering optimism and soothing light to the stage where the other members of the community were dancing (surviving) in the shadows of Stalin’s oppression. The sheer beauty of his dancing and the pristine quality of his technique suggested that the community’s persistence would yield an idyllic outcome. Of course, history had other plans.
Making her principal role debut opposite Marcelo Gomes, Devon Teuscher acquitted herself extremely well. Along with a glistening technique that serves her so strongly in Ashton roles and will someday make her a commanding Odette/Odile, Devon exuded a coolness and beauty that was a throwback to the days Christine Dunham and even farther back to the days of Toni Lander. We’re toying with the idea of taking another look on Saturday night anticipating that her second performance will take more dramatic liberties, but there is that beckoning Serenade across the Plaza...
Stella Abrera and Craig Salstein revived and refreshed their secondary roles as dangerous instigators who encouraged the community to do things contrary to the regime’s will. The community corps (with a sprinkling of soloists) danced with a new conviction and clarity that were missing during previous seasons of the ballet.
Chamber Symphony (James Whiteside, Sarah Lane, Isabella Boylston, Hee Seo) missed the tragic, dramatic voice of David Hallberg of seasons passed. Every time Whiteside showed anguish we were prepared for him to next pull a stupid joke. His broadly public lack of seriousness and maturity have taken their toll on the audience’s perception of his onstage artistry.
Chamber's corps de ballet was untidy in places, and it was very noticeable how unflattering the costumes were on some of the un-lithe dancers.
However, the corps de ballet in Piano Concerto #1 made up for everything. Wow, did this group have it together last night! Zhong-Jing Fang, April Giangeruso, Melanie Hamrick, Courtney Lavine, Lauren Post, Katherine Williams, Alexei Agoudine, Gray Davis, Kenneth Easter, Daniel Mantei, Patrick Ogle and Jose Sebastian collectively gave a giant of a performance. Sleek in their unitards that were gray in the front and maroon on the flipside, speedy, perfectly in tune with one another, the dancers revealed the architecture of this ballet better than we have ever seen. At times it was hard to take our eyes off of them in order to watch the principals.
Christine Shevchenko, subbing for Gillian Murphy just as she had to do several years ago in her debut, showed new confidence and core strength and made the partnering by Cory Stearns a fairly easy assignment. His dancing looked uncharacteristically energetic and happy with very little stress. His very nice double tours coming down the diagonal were literally leaning on the diagonal. The other couple, Maria Kochetkova and Daniil Simkin, treated their choreography like they were doing a bit in some competition gala. Acting baby cute doesn't cut it with a lot of the audience. We don't care to see that again; so, it looks like we've made our Saturday night decision.
The HH Pump Bump Award, a Louboutin with strong gray design and red sole, goes to the ladies in the corps of Piano Concerto #1. Zhong-Jing Fang, April Giangeruso, Melanie Hamrick, Courtney Lavine, Lauren Post, and Katherine Williams rocked!
Awkward was the word that came to mind most often during ABT’s Spring Gala last night.
The out-of-context snippets representing works presented this spring season were D.O.A. Sylvia’s entrance variation by Maria Kochetkova consisted of timid, tiny dancing that made no impact and made one feel sorry for some of the corps huntresses who could have done a much better job. Just what is Kochetkova’s problem with the opening grand jete combination that switches legs? If a ballerina can’t do the steps, she shouldn’t put on the costume. Period. Whether it’s a tough grand jete combination, 32 fouettes, or hops on pointe – do the steps or don’t waste the audience’s time and money. With no strength or importance to her dancing, Kochetkova looked like some little bunny hopping around. Awkward.
Following the Sylvia excerpt Kevin McKenzie appeared before the curtain to make his usual garbled remarks of gratitude. Every single year instead of using a handheld microphone that will make him heard, he opts for having one attached to his shirt which does absolutely nothing for his mumbling. One thing was very clear, though. When he announced the return of retired ballerina Ferri, he called her Alexandra. Uh huh. Not Alessandra, but Alexandra. Awkward.
The Sleeping Beauty excerpt from the Vision Scene followed. Hee Seo (Aurora), Cory Stearns (Desire), and Veronika Part (Lilac Fairy) gave it the old college try, but unfortunately the excerpt held little magic when viewed out of context and looked more like a stage rehearsal. However, the Nymph ladies were quite ready to go and impressed with their acutely synchronized traveling ballonnés – a very good sign.
La Fille mal gardee PdD from Act I was danced by Isabella Boylston and Jeffrey Cirio. There was no belief or charm in this match-up. Colas made an effort to spark some energy and joy out of his charmless Lise who was too tall and too awkward for him to partner.
With the exception of Veronika Part, not one of the dancers in a principal role commanded the stage up to this point in the evening. The exclamation point to that observation came when the curtain rose to reveal 53-year-old Alessandra Ferri who stood motionless in the center of the stage and instantly grabbed the attention of the audience. As she danced Kenneth MacMillan’s simple Pie Jesu solo from Requiem to music by Gabriel Faure, she easily conveyed the peacefulness and acceptance of death that the music and lyrics (sung beautifully by soprano Ying Fang) so powerfully communicated. Not as steady on her pointes as we had hoped to see, but nevertheless, in about three minutes she managed to make herself the highlight of the night.
As strange as strange could be, instead of proceeding with the next item on the program, which was to be Alexei Ratmansky’s premiere of Serenade after Plato’s Symposium, the curtain opened to reveal a curtain downstage with a black horizontal obstacle across it. Suddenly Kochetkova, who danced 30 minutes ago, scampered out and bowed and was given some flowers. Then the rest of the dancers who had performed in principal roles filed out to bow and accept flowers. It was the damndest, most awkward thing. Awkward.
Finally, we got to the premiere which has been set to Leonard Bernstein’s 1954 composition of the same name. Bernstein greatly admired Dmitri Shostakovich’s music. He had a special fondness for Symphony No. 9, which he recorded twice and featured during one of his televised New York Philharmonic Young People’s Concerts. Bernstein loved the fact that Shostakovich thumbed his nose at the Curse of the Number 9 which suggests that if a composer gets to the point of writing a ninth symphony, he’d better make it a whopper because it likely will be his last, e.g., Beethoven's 9th, Mahler’s 9th, Bruckner’s 9th. Shostakovich’s Symphonies No. 7 and 8 had been huge affairs, and so, he composed his ninth symphony as a humorous stab at the curse and fate and, of course, at Stalin who commissioned it expecting to get a Victory Symphony. We’ll hear No. 9 tomorrow night as part of a week that consists exclusively of Ratmansky’s choreography.
The influences of Shostakovich and Stravinsky on Bernstein frequently can be heard in the latter’s work whose exposed nerve passion for music and life led him in so many different directions at one time. So it is no surprise that Ratmansky, a Shostakovich devotee, would discover inspiration in Bernstein’s music. For his latest creation for ABT which premiered last evening, Ratmansky chose Serenade After Plato’s Symposium, a five movement concerto that was inspired by Plato’s work in which seven men have a symposium (read drinking party) where they engage in a dialogue about the meaning of love. In those good ole days, women were excluded from these dialogues so as not to impair their seriousness.
Seven men (Herman Cornejo, Marcelo Gomes, Blaine Hoven, Calvin Royal III, Gabe Stone Shayer, Daniil Simkin, and James Whiteside) cavorted about doing the same sort of stuff that one sees in most all of Ratmansky’s ballet’s – ballet vocabulary combined with his own gibberish which rarely illuminates the former. There was little of interest in this piece other than a couple of solos by Herman Cornejo who always seems to understand how to make Ratmansky’s choreography pop with life. Cornejo’s music began with strains that sounded like they might lead into a West Side Story ballad, and there was Herman looking for all the world like a tough Bernardo dressed as a Greek. The others mostly applied enormous energy to their steps. Men did diagonals of bourrees on demi-pointe while switching their feet from front to back in fifth position. It was unusual enough, but it came across as gimmicky and yielded none of the beauty that bourrees on pointe yield.
Each of the men danced a solo section. Predictably, Whiteside and Shayer tried to inject humor and cuteness into their phrases; Simkin was the trickster who did an extended manege of grand allegro and also staggered onto the stage to convey his drunkenness; Royal danced an adagio sequence; and Hoven and Gomes did a little of everything. About three-quarters of the way through, Devon Teuscher appeared in a wide ray of light at the back of the stage. Remember now that women were not supposed to be at these symposiums. But Gomes invited her in for a PdD which if applied literally to Plato’s Symposium would have represented where Socrates spoke on behalf of Diotima (a woman who taught him much), because she was not permitted to speak for herself. The PdD, hampered by unfortunate bulky layered costume design and terrible lighting, revealed little. A few lifts, extensions, same-old same-old. Let us repeat the unfortunate costume design (Jerome Kaplan) and terrible lighting (Brad Fields).
This ballet was an example of trying to base choreography on a literary source without really doing so because it would be too difficult and take too much time. Ratmansky sketched in a few vague references among his many steps but never really said anything. Unfortunately, the costumes were so literally Greek inspired in their long robes that one expected to see a full story. If one is going to hint at a story, the costumes should only hint as well. The PdD for Gomes and Teuscher seemed to have the dancers' faces down cast much of the time – certainly not up cast, but the lighting didn’t find the faces.
Speaking of light and just to lighten things up a bit – how funny it was to watch Alastair Irrelevant’s facial reaction when he discovered that Ratmansky was sitting across the aisle from him. He seemed genuinely perturbed as though someone had intentionally planted him there to try to influence the NYT review. Then he began giggling with his seat mate and motioning with his head towards the choreographer. Surely Mr. Irrelevant wishes that Ratmansky had an Instagram account that he could stalk and soil, although he seems to have a preference for the IG accounts of the young ones who might be more willingly coaxed to share gossip, complaints, and nonpublic information with him.
While Symposium wasn’t a terrible ballet, it simply didn’t offer anything that we haven’t seen from Ratmansky. Strangely, even though Bernstein’s music was packed with emotion, the ballet left us feeling a little empty.
Unfortunately, Haglund had a pressing 7:48pm obligation and had to beg out of watching the Firebird which was the second half of the show.
The Pump Bump Award, a giant's stiletto by Guiseppe Zanotti, is bestowed upon Alessandra Ferri who towered over everyone and gave quite the pointed lesson in what it means to hold the live stage. It requires a different skill set than on Instagram.
Friday was the official opening day for the observatory at the new One World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, and Haglund was there among the masses who snaked along queues for nearly two hours before packing into an elevator that skyrocketed us at a whistling speed to the top to behold a view that hadn’t been seen in quite a number of years. The landscape has changed, of course. It would have changed dramatically over the past decade and a half even if the city had been spared historical events. But the charge to the top by the masses on the first day was less about the view and more about perspective. Changing one has led to a restoration of the other.
This photo looks down into the memorial waters of the footprint from the 102nd Floor. Click on the picture for a better resolution:
In the evening, Haglund attended ABT’s New York opening of its new production of Sleeping Beauty and returned for the Saturday matinee performance. The premiere performances of this reconstruction by Alexei Ratmansky, with costumes and scenery by Richard Hudson, occurred in Orange County in March. Those performances were enthusiastically received, but revealed that this production is more about the costumes and wigs than about the dancing. The costume/wig opulence has been magnified while the dancing has been moderated to erase most evolutionary changes in ballet technique since the 19th century so that we see Sleeping Beauty as it was originally intended to be seen.
Here in New York, where the non-costumed ballet was born with the intent to emphasize the importance of choreography (substance) over costume (style), it might be tough to sell this Sleeping Beauty to the audience. Orange County was brought up on Disney. New York was brought up on Balanchine. That’s why there are 2,500 good miles between us.
A few words about wigs.
Yes, it’s true that at a point in history, wigs were a sign of affluence and power – the bigger, the better – but their basic purpose was to deal with head lice and the balding side effect of syphilis. If the hair didn’t fall out from venereal disease, then it was shaved off to eliminate crawly things. In ABT’s new Sleeping Beauty, the historically-minded viewer might spend an inordinate amount of time wondering about what was growing within the Queen’s tall hive on her head or how the ladies wearing starchy yellow-tinged unattractive wigs acquired their syphllis. Maybe, you say, we shouldn’t make too much of the wigs? Well, ABT certainly made much of them and spent much on them; so, it’s all the more reason to speak up if we don’t like them. ABT needs to find wigs that don’t make so many of the women look ugly and the children look like they are part of The Addams Family.
The costumes are intended to overwhelm just as they did historically, but overwhelm whom is the question. Their scope overwhelmed the viewer but also seemed to overwhelm some of the dancers, most notably poor Herman Cornejo who could barely be seen under his hat and whose long red hunting jacket swallowed him up. Speaking of ridiculously overdone hats, on Friday night, Roman Zhurbin’s Indian Prince wore an enormous pink turban and pearls that made him look like Johnny Carson’s Carnac the Magnificent. A lot of money went into those hats, costumes, and wigs - probably enough money to pay for a few new world class classical coaches for a year – maybe coaches good enough to be able to teach ABT’s ballerinas what they need to know to be suitable to dance Nikiya in Makarova’s La Bayadere. It’s odd how Makarova can set her production on companies all over the world and use those companies’ dancers, but can’t seem to find a crew of acceptable ballerinas in New York. Few if any people want to pay money to see the pointless, tragically ordinary, and unappealing Kochetkova dance Nikiya once, but McKenzie and Makarova think she’s just what we need to see three or four times in one week. It must be the language connection that keeps her employed here, because it sure isn’t her dancing. Haglund will skip Herman Cornejo’s brilliant performances rather than have to sit through Kochetkova while the enormously talented Sarah Lane sits on the sidelines.
Back to Sleeping Beauty – we’re not going to indulge in presentism, but a literal reconstruction of Sleeping Beauty is more likely to appeal to academics than anyone else. Try talking to the Met Opera about doing a literal reconstruction of La Boheme that requires everyone to sing exactly as they did in 1896 and see how far you get.
The first two casts of this Sleeping Beauty have been superb although both ballerinas had trouble with the little bit of familiar virtuosity remaining in the ballet - those Rose Adagio balances. Gillian Murphy and Sarah Lane are ABT’s most reliable balancers (now that Yuriko Kajiya is gone) and have brilliantly exceeded expectations in their performances of the Rose Adagio in the prior production. But each had trouble completing her sequence this week, and Sarah slipped off releve during her third promenade in attitude. Up to that point, however, each ballerina interpreted the historic choreography with glistening sensitivity and style.
Sarah, in particular, illustrated the beauty in the quickness of pirouettes that opened instantly to arabesque or other position as opposed to the rhythmical pirouettes that finish leisurely - which can also be pretty. We were seeing the music - to borrow a phrase from across the Plaza. Also, Sarah has mastered the most articulate pas de chat under the sun. We saw them earlier in the season in Theme and Variations where her feet scooped so quickly and cleanly beneath her. We must also compliment Sarah on the articulation of her saute ronds de jambe, her beautiful backbends, the softness of her port de bras, and the gradual redefining of Aurora from Act I’s eager young princess to Act II’s spiritual vision, and finally, to Act III’s elegant bride-to-be. All in all, a lovely debut in this production. Though we hadn’t planned it, we’re going to buy a ticket to her performance on June 11th because we’re pretty sure that we will see some spectacular balances in the Rose Adagio.
Gillian had more confidence in the role on opening night, in part, due to having performed Aurora in Orange County a couple of times already. She wore the antiquity of the style with complete ease and grace, particularly the lovely demi-seconde positions of the arms and hands. She wore the heavily layered costumes more easily than Sarah who would have looked much better had she been wrapped in less fabric. Gillian seemed more committed to the lower developpes and doing the pirouettes with the foot closer to the ankle than she was in Orange County in March, and they were prettier.
The Princes in this production have little to do until their Act III variation. Both Marcelo Gomes and Herman Cornejo dispatched their steps brilliantly. We’re accustomed to Herman’s incredible allegro form, but seeing the big guy Marcelo move at high speed with clarity was a treat. Both partnered admirably while executing different versions of the fanciness in the Wedding PdD. Marcelo and Gillian performed the fishdives that we are accustomed to seeing. Herman and Sarah performed something closer to the original choreography where Sarah launched a double en dedans pirouette with the leg in attitude devant and finished with a fast opening developpe en ecarte. As she and Herman performed this three times, it became rather clear how simply and naturally this step evolved into the more complex fishdive. This version was interesting to see but was much less pretty than the fishdives. Let’s hope that Sarah and Herman get a chance to do it the modern way for their next performance.
In addition to fishdives, other bits of evolution could be reintroduced without compromising the idea of the reconstruction. Aurora’s diagonal of triple pirouettes could be returned to the Act I variation as a replacement for Ratmansky’s lame attempt at wide-eyed humor in this section. Did the Stepanov notes dictate exactly how this diagonal should be characterized or was this Ratmansky’s extension of a theme picked up earlier? Haglund thinks it’s misguided and comes perilously close to slapstick. Aurora should be demonstrating that she is a supremely beautiful and talented princess, not struggling to be so.
The Lilac Fairies – Stella Abrera on Friday and Devon Teuscher on Saturday – each were lovely in their brief but killer variations where each step could have spelled disaster for lesser skilled dancers. Still, we missed seeing the Lilac Fairy dance in Acts II and III; here she was simply a character role.
The Bluebird and Prince Florine were extremely well danced at each performance – Daniil Simkin and Cassandra Trenary on Friday and Blaine Hoven and Stella Abrera on Saturday. Haglund loves how this section no longer has the strange, ungainly awkwardness that was common in the prior production’s choreography. When Simkin’s Bluebird did split jumps high off the ground, it was no surprise because we’d seen Simkin do that sort of stuff before. But when the big guy Blaine launched into the air and stretched those legs, they went from goal post to goal post. Beautiful.
Of all the Fairies in both performances, one stood out as most composed, scrupulously styled, and elegant. Gemma Bond as the Breadcrumb Fairy on Friday and the Sapphire Fairy on Saturday was the exclamation point for why we love watching this ballet over and over again. Lauren Post as the Silver Fairy on Friday and the Breadcrumb Fairy on Saturday also embodied those same qualities.
Courtney Lavine and Calvin Royal as Cinderella and Her Prince gave their couple of minutes a good whirl on Friday night. They’re both very likable artists, and Courtney projects great warmth and generosity in her dancing.
A quick side note – Some of the minor adult character dances in Act III were fielded to non-ABT dancers from around the area. What a fabulous sight, and surely a cosmic sign, to see Katia Raj in the role of Scheherazade on Friday. After being somewhat ignored at the JKO School several years ago, Katia found her way to Gelsey Kirkland who performed her own reconstruction on this dancer and turned her into a lovely performer. Haglund fondly remembers a particularly spellbinding Swan Lake Act II PdD that Katia performed with Alexander Mays during one of the Kirkland Academy’s performances. They had been coached by both Gelsey and Ivan Nagy and were ravishingly beautiful. In Friday night’s Sleeping Beauty Alexander Mays was Bluebeard. Another of Gelsey’s gems which she is currently polishing is Marcus Salazar who was Mandarin on Friday night. We just saw him as Sancho Panza a few weeks ago with the Gelsey Kirkland Ballet at the Schimmel Center where both Katia and Alexander also performed. It's all a cosmic sign of something or other, for sure.
The HH Pump Bump Award by Valentino is bestowed upon Sarah Lane, who despite an imperfect Rose Adagio, was a perfectly genuine Aurora who danced delicately and decisively just the way a princess would.
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.
– said Mrs. Allen to Fred while carefully articulating her mispronunciation. And it was funny, because everyone knew that Fred wasn’t expecting Sleeping Beauty (or whatever celebrity Mrs. Allen mispronounced) to walk through the door on Allen’s Alley during the old Texaco broadcasts.
That scene came to mind during Act I of ABT’s premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s new production of Sleeping Beauty last night at the Segerstrom Center. A hybrid rose, for sure, and ocassionally more shrubby than tea-like, this new interpretation throws some fragrant blooms while eschewing virtuosity in favor of the type of geeky humor that appears in other of Ratmansky’s work. A desire to make a joke or ridicule an idea - in a harmless way of course - frequently seeps into his work, whether it belongs there, such as in The Bright Stream, or doesn’t, such as in his Cinderella. Like his Cinderella and Clara in The Nutcracker, Aurora now is a little bit ditsy and overly-adorable. That was Diana Vishneva’s interpretation last night.
Marius Petipa’s Sleeping Beauty premiered in 1890, but it was not until a dozen or so years later that the then current version of the choreography was preserved in Stepanov notation form. It is this 1903 notation from which Ratmansky has drawn as much as practical for this new production. A dozen years is a long time for a ballet to simmer and absorb seasoning from competitive dance flavorists around the world. We might worry how closely the Stepanov notes reveal Petipa’s original intentions, but that would be a waste of time - like wondering whether the delicious cake on the plate before us compares favorably to our great-great grandmother’s which we never tasted, and never will, but whose recipe served as the basis for the cake on our plate. Even if we were handed the Encyclopedic Cookbook of Choreography that ensured us that we had every step and ingredient of Petipa’s 1890 Sleeping Beauty, we still would not experience the ballet the way audiences experienced it 125 years. Ingredients have changed.
The 21st century dancers are different physically. They are leaner, longer, and are trained with different aesthetic priorities than a century ago. The shoes ballerinas wear in the 21st century are vastly different from those worn in prior centuries when the boxes were very pointed, the vamps were short, and the shanks and stiffening were far less supportive. Balancing on the tip of a pointe shoe in 1890 was likely more fleeting because it had to be. Pirouettes likely descended with some abruptness because the ballerina’s shoes wouldn’t support a lingering balance and a controlled roll through the foot.
Equipment always affects the aesthetic quality of a performance. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment performs its music on period instruments in an effort to achieve a performance quality closer to that representative of the time in history when the music was composed. It is doubtful that there would be much of an audience for a Ballet of the Age of Enlightenment in which dancers wear period pointe shoes to achieve the airy quality of a time past, but it might be an interesting academic exercise to try out some of this old choreography with historically modeled equipment. After all, cake batter beaten with a wooden spoon results in a different texture cake than when the batter is blended at high speed in a Cuisinart mixer.
Of course, Ratmansky isn’t the first person to try to recover Petipa’s jewel of a ballet. In 1995, Anthony Dowell created the most exquisite production of Sleeping Beauty imaginable for the Royal Ballet based on what was known then about the Petipa choreography. Dowell had to fill in some big blanks, but it was clear that he was always thinking "WWPD?" rather than stirring up something from his own imagination. It didn’t hurt that Dowell had the perfect Aurora in the Royal Ballet’s Viviana Durante, an Italian ballerina of unusual imagination, intelligence and purity of form.
Four years later, the Mariinsky Ballet premiered a new production of Sleeping Beauty based on the Stepanov notations from the Sergeyev Collection. The choreographer in charge of restoring Sleeping Beauty’s original choreography was Sergei Vikharev, a Mariinsky principal with a deep interest in preserving Petipa’s works. Vikharev’s staging generated much controversy outside Russia where its authenticity was questioned, but there was no denying that it was an important reconstruction effort and that much of it was very enjoyable to watch. The latter was due in part to Vikharev’s selection of two of the Mariinsky’s youngest and brightest stars to lead the premiere performances as Aurora and The Lilac Fairy. Diana Vishneva and Veronika Part were in their early twenties and in their early years with the Mariinsky when Vikharev plucked them for his production. Their youth and beauty trumped their weaknesses and lack of experience, and the honesty of their efforts won a lot of people over.
Sixteen years later, Diana Vishneva and Veronika Part have again been tapped to lead a high profile reconstruction of Sleeping Beauty by Ratmansky. But it is not deja vu all over again, as Yogi would say. Ratmansky has said that the Stepanov notations provided clear information regarding the position of the legs and feet but almost nothing about the arms and head, which required him to fill in choreography. This is where the ballet falls into trouble. Unfortunately, instead of considering WWPD as Dowell did, Ratmansky opted to try to insert ill-fitting humor into the ballet.
During Act I of most productions, Aurora performs a variation with a series of double pirouettes on the diagonal in which the arms change from formal position to formal position. It may be that the Stepanov notations call for a single pirouette rather than a double, which would be understandable in 1903 and 1890. But would Petipa have called for the ballerina to intentionally clumsily drop off pointe after a quick single pirouette to make it look awkward and then peer over her shoulder at her parents as though looking for their approval? Then another awkward single pirouette. Then a quick double pirouette made to look like she just barely eked it out? If there was so little in the Stepanov notations about the arms and head, why would Ratmansky presume that Petipa was trying to make a joke out of the diagonal of pirouettes?
Even when Aurora made her first entrance, there was an adolescent awkwardness about her. There was no royally bred confidence and no suggestion of impeccable manners. She was a basic 16 year old who was interested in kicking up her heels at her birthday party. Vishneva put a lot of her face into this role, but a lot of times the dancing looked awkward and she made a strained effort to sell it and her adolescent cuteness to the audience.
The Act I balances were businesslike and tentative. Did Aurora acknowledge each Prince who came by to hold her hand? Not once; she was too busy concentrating on the balancing - literally. Aurora’s developpes were at a tasteful height, nicely turned out, and actually emphasized the beauty of her tutu by slightly extending its diameter when the fabric opened. But here, the harmony in the torso and port de bras were lacking. Nor did the position of the head contribute to any meaningful balletic line.
When Aurora traveled down the diagonal line of princes and stepped into a slight penche arabesque next to each, Vishneva stepped onto a flat foot instead of rolling down - just like she did in the 1999 Vikharev restoration, and it was pointless in more ways than one. Nobody’s demanding a pique, but a little bit of roll through the foot wouldn’t hurt.
The dialing back of virtuosity wasn’t all bad. The pirouettes with the working foot well below the knee complimented the silhouette of the costume. Had the working leg been at or above the knee, we would not have seen the foot or working leg shape because of the length of the costume. It was interesting to see some of the pirouettes end with the foot to the back with the toes flat against the floor instead of pointed. Aurora’s chaine turns were done on demi-pointe as must have been stipulated in the Stepanov notations. But it begs the question of why they were notated that way. Was it because the ballerinas of 1903 could not do fast chaines on pointe or was there a real aesthetic-related reason?
While the virtuosity was reduced in many places, it was increased in others. Prince Desire’s Act III solo followed the version notated in 1903 and reportedly danced by Nikolai Legat. It was packed with much more batterie than we are accustomed to seeing, including beats en tournant, and many brise vole which our prince, Marcelo Gomes, tackled with gusto. Why, in this wedding PdD there were overhead lifts like in Giselle, we don’t know. Have they been in the Stepanov notations all these years and overlooked or were they interpreted from old photos? Wherever they came from, they didn’t fit into the scheme of the choreography or the music.
Speaking of the Giselle-like lifts, some of the costumes for the ladies in Act I looked like they came right out of Act I of Giselle - kind of like these people were part of the 99% while Aurora along and her family were the 1%.
The new Sleeping Beauty is a costume spectacle. Designer Richard Hudson took his inspiration from the Bakst designs used in the 1921 Ballets Russes production of Sleeping Beauty. Much of the evening, the costumes overpowered the choreography - like too much sweet frosting on a cake. For the most part, they were gorgeous but the color scheme and variations in fabric were all over the place. Worst, though, were the not-quite white wigs that looked dreadful on our fairies who were wearing costumes that included a lot of white. Haglund loves wigs, but only when they contrast with what the dancer is wearing. We hate to keep throwing Dowell’s production up into everyone’s faces as being exemplary, but he got a lot of things right - including the use of wigs.
Our Lilac Fairy, Veronika Part, did not fare so well on opening night. The choreography for her Act I variation was neither that which she performed in the 1999 reconstruction at the Mariinsky nor was it what we have come to expect in modern productions, although the most difficult parts like the battement fouettes, seemed similar to Dowell’s production at the Royal Ballet. She was one of the few who looked smashing in her white wig which contrasted nicely with her lilac costume. But those fouettes and pirouettes were problematic.
Devon Teuscher (Candide), Misty Copeland (Fleur de farine), Sarah Lane (Miettes qui tombent), Skylar Brandt (Canari qui chante), and Stella Abrera (Violente) danced mostly traditional Prologue variations. There was some kind of an attempt to make Violente funny by having her begin with a long, stern stare out at the audience and by having her wear a head piece with long boingy things sticking up that looked like they were right off of the Bee’s costume from The Nutcracker. Stella danced exquisitely in her boingy things, her less than attractive costume, and an unpretty wig. There’s not much anyone can do to hide the beauty of her dancing.
Haglund was most impressed with the Lilac Fairy Attendants, Maids of Honor, and the Gold, Silver, and Sapphire Fairies. They were very consistent in style and uniform in execution while also being very pretty and personable. We’ve never seen a Diamond fairy look anything but clumsy and overdone, and last night was no exception; the focus of Isabella Boylston’s jumps were size, not form or quiet landings.
Daniil Simkin and Cassandra Trenary as the Bluebird and Princess Florine were fetching in their costumes and in their dancing. The choreography looked some how smoothed out, but we can’t put our finger on why. Perhaps that will become more evident in this evening’s performance. They each did a fine job, though.
Isadora Loyola and Sean Stewart were catabulous as The White Cat and Puss-in-Boots. Their entire variation seems to have been restored.
The HH Pump Bump is awarded to the ladies in the Corps de Ballet who achieved high points in both style and execution with a special nod to the Lilac Fairy Attendants.