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The Sleeping Beauty – American Ballet Theater – Los Angeles Theater Review

 

AH! NO WORDS, JUST MOVEMENT AND SPECTACLE

picture - Sleeping Beauty - American Ballet Theater - Los Angeles - Dorothy Chandler Pavillion

Dance Review

by Harvey Perr 

published July 17, 2010 

 

The Sleeping Beauty

now playing in Los Angeles at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion  

through July 18 

 

Each drama reviewer needs a busman’s holiday every so often, an escape from words, a surrender to another, any other, artistic form which, in turn, reminds one that theater, great theater, often comes from a myriad of sources. The art of storytelling is an ancient art indeed. And wedding music to the telling of a story must be as old a form as reading hieroglyphics and hearing, at the same time, music in one’s head. And moving to that internal music. So when word came through that the American Ballet Theatre and its brilliant company of world-class dancers was coming to town with its production of The Sleeping Beauty, this reviewer leaped at the chance to move into territory usually covered by experts. Does one really have to know a plié from a grand jeté to appreciate ballet as theater? Let’s blur the lines a bit.

 

One needs only an ear to luxuriate in Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky’s luscious music played, under Ormsby Wilkins’s musical direction, so warmly. One needs only eyes to be overwhelmed by the magnificent beauty of Tony Walton’s fabulously flowing set designs and to see how much fun he must have had incorporating into his own images the influences of fairy-tale illustrators like Arthur Rackham as well as painters of amusement park horror rides. Or to admire the rich use of primary colors in Willa Kim’s costumes or the simple starchiness of the tutus she has designed for the fairies.

 

picture - Sleeping Beauty - American Ballet Theater - Los Angeles - Dorothy Chandler Pavillion Nor does it take any particular skill to recognize and appreciate the tension between the art of discipline and the art of personality; indeed, it should serve as a reminder that all actors should consider the possibility of melding the two. And it is extraordinary to see what good actors contemporary dancers have become (in much the same way that opera singers have learned to convey real emotions that music alone cannot be counted on to do). One may tingle with excitement and gasp with pleasure at how the fragile dignity of dancing on point can become an act of regal defiance, and in Paloma Herrera’s shimmering performance of the ill-fated Princess Aurora, that is precisely what is seen and felt. And, as Prince Désiré, David Hallberg brings not only elegance and finesse to his every movement and casual fleet-footedness to his leaps, but, also, just a whiff of aloofness and narcissism that lurks beneath his princely manner. The two are so perfectly coupled that their final grand pas de deux transforms dance into a frieze of architectural beauty. These are not simple folk, and they are no less human for clinging to their regality.

 

It would take more adept knowledge to know just how much of the choreography is the work of its original choreographer Marius Petipa and how much is the work of Kevin McKenzie. Gelsey Kirkland and Michael Chernov, who have made contributions; or, in what ways, this production is inspired by the Kirov Ballet’s 1952 production. That is where the layman is at risk of fully appreciating The Sleeping Beauty as more than merely movement and spectacle. But, again, one can trust one’s eyes: the prologue, in which the King and Queen celebrate their daughter Aurora’s christening, is far too busy and the corps de ballet seems awkward, even clumsy, at times. The entrance and departure of Carabosse – whose anger at not being invited to the festivities justifies the curse she has placed on Aurora – is a bit indulgent in its use of smoke and special effects (a cheap shot is a cheap shot). Among the fairies, only Gemma Bond, with the feathery use of her arms and the delicacy of her doll-like dancing, really comes vibrantly to life. There seems to be a lot of marking time, except for Ms. Herrera’s appearances, in the first act. Things get markedly better after intermission, but the most gorgeous choreography is saved for the third and final act, after the legendary fairy tale has come to an end, and, in the course of the wedding celebration of Aurora and Désiré, The Sleeping Beauty finally becomes what ballet is all about: Dancing. In the roles of Princess Florine and The Bluebird, Hee Seo is exquisite and Sascha Radetsky is dazzling and, together, they make extravagance look easy. And the solid work by Maria Riccetto as the Lilac Fairy, Nancy Raffa as Carabosse, and the graceful Maria Bystrova as The Fairy of Sincerity comes most sharply into focus. Are the balletomanes in the audience too eager to applaud? Perhaps. However, they do seem to sit on their hands during arid stretches. and a mere drama reviewer generally agreed with them for the most part.

 

But the spectacle and the movement, so innately theatrical - and, above all, the memorable team of Herrera and Hallberg - transformed The Sleeping Beauty into a midsummer night’s dream. 

 

harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com

 

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