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.)