by Sigrid Payne DaVeiga
June 7, 2007 -- Academy of Music, Philadelphia
Entering the Academy of Music, one could feel lightness in the air on this lovely summer evening. This audience came to see a “Sleeping Beauty” that would match the magic found only on a crisp summer night such as this at Philadelphia’s Avenue of the Arts. The presence and excitement of the children in the lobby was remarkable; their voices carried the audience to their seats inside the Academy’s marvelous theater.
The sets and costumes for the production, designed by Peter Cazalet, were absolutely beautiful and perfectly matched the events in each scene. The prologue opened to the beautiful backdrop of the royal castle; the guests of the party entering in fantastically ornate costumes. The fairies were lovelyin their entrance, with nice synchrony in their opening moments on stage. The cavaliers, Yosbel Delgado, Maximilien Baud, Ian Hussey, Jonathan Stiles, Alexei Charov and James Ihde partnered the Fairies nicely. Dancing together there were a few missteps among the cavaliers, but they maintained their presence and were pleasant to watch.
Among the Fairy solos, there were high and low points. In Megan Dickinson’s solo as the Fairy of Grace, her arms were noteworthy, but she seemed to tire with the multiple developpés in the piece. Tara Keating, as the Fairy of Beauty, was much too harsh. Keating’s delivery of this choreography was an intense attack that did not suit the role. Rachel Maher, the Fairy of Abundance, seemed to have some difficulty with her solo as well. Maher appeared unable to stabilize her torso while her legs and arms carried off this intricate choreography.
Abigail Mentzer, the Fairy of Song, was utterly fantastic with a sharp, clean and graceful delivery of some difficult choreography. Mentzer maintained this presence and level of performance with every appearance on stage in tonight’s production and was a true highlight of this evening’s performance. Emily Waters, the Fairy of Song, was also notable in her solo that required lightness and grace.
Gabriella Yudenich, consistently lovely, performed as the Lilac Fairy. The Lilac Fairy Attendants, Caralin Curcio, Molly Flippen, Victoria Gates, Chelsea Gilday, Alyson Pray, and Lindsay Purrington had some nice footwork in their performance. The Pages with Gifts were a delightful touch to the party for the Baby Aurora.
One of tonight’s best performances was given by Riolama Lorenzo as Carabosse. She was perfect in her delivery of this character and so fun to watch. She seemed to be truly enjoying herself in the role. Her costume was fabulous and the Carabosse monsters, Jennifer Gruener, Kelia Ideishi, Jeanette Kakareka and Tara Nicodermo, made a nice ensemble. The contest between the Lilac Fairy and Carabosse – two dancers with great stage presence – was exquisitely cast. This moment was one of the real highlights in tonight’s performance and set the stage for a true battle of wills, between good and evil. The interlude with Lorenzo working over her cauldron was priceless.
Artists of The Pennsylvania Ballet performed in the Garland Dance and as the Court Couples in Act I. The group was quite sweet and very clean in their completion of the piece. Their movements and grace matched the music perfectly.
In a last minute casting change, Arantxa Ochoa danced the role of Princess Aurora. After a fairly strong performance by the cast in the prologue, Act I is the first time Ochoa enters the stage. For a dancer who consistently finds her way through intricate and difficult choreography, tonight’s performance was very out of the ordinary. In her first moments dancing with her suitors, she never seemed able to catch her balance and missed an entire set of balanced turns in attitude with each suitor. Every time she held the hand of a partner for a balance, her hands shook noticeably. Perhaps she was tired? Watching her one felt uncomfortable, for fear she might fall or injure herself.
Aurora’s friends, Rebecca Azenburg, Laura Bowman, Heidi Cruz-Austin, Megan Dickinson, Alyson Pray, Hawley Rowe, Barette Vance and Rachel Maher were a happy group on stage. They were easy to watch and completely together in all of their footwork. The four princes, Ihde, Delgado, Alexander Iziliaev and Charov, were also a nice group to watch; particularly with respect to their attentiveness of Ochoa in her moments of weakness.
In Act II, Julie Diana performed as the Marchioness and Zachary Hench entered as Prince Desiré. These were two more casting changes this evening. The hunting scene was marked by the gentle flirtation between this real-life husband and wife duo as they playfully performed their respective roles. Diana and Hench must be fantastic together as a true pairing of principals. Unfortunately, I will have to witness this on another night.
Hench was a force in tonight’s performance. Power, strength, grace and stage presence are a formidable combination in a male dancer; Pennsylvania Ballet has found it in Hench, and his performance as Prince Desiré shows all of these attributes. In his partnering of Ochoa in their first moments on stage, their lifts are quite praiseworthy and she looks light as a feather. Ochoa improved in Act II and had a beautiful clean turn set to close. The Nymphs created a nice backdrop for the events in Act II. Their footwork was quiet at first. At times they were stronger and more together; eventually, though, they tired and the sound of their pointe shoes became more and more prominent.
The Lilac Fairy appeared here to guide the Prince through the many layers of fog to where Princess Aurora lies. This was a beautiful effect and the grace and beauty of Yudenich’s arms through the shadow was really wonderful. Lorenzo’s demise as Carabosse is wildly incredible and a great close to her performance.
Act III took the audience to the celebration of the wedding of Prince Desire and Princess Aurora. . The dancers continued to perform without fail in spite of the length of the ballet, and there were more notable moments in these last solos.
Delgado, Ihde and Cruz-Austin performed as the Precious Jewels Pas de Trois. Cruz-Austin, another consistent performer, does not fail in this role. She is smooth and clean, partnered well by Ihde; she seems weightier than usual in her delivery of this piece. Delgado looks to stumble around her when he turns her in arabesque and his jump landings are not clean. Vance, as the White Cat, and Jonathan Stiles, as Puss in Boots, were great and another very fun piece of this performance. The audience adored these two. Vance’s legs and feet were perfect, while the two dancers maintained the playfulness necessary to carry off this variation. They closed with a very nice lift.
Valerie Amiss, Princess Florine, was partnered by Francis Veyette, The Blue Bird. As always, Amiss has superb feet, arms and extensions. Her solo here was inspiring. She carried off many great jumps requiring stamina with grace. She smiled and made it look effortless. Veyette’s jumps were also impressive. Veyette partnered her gracefully and comfortably and they were a pleasure to watch; the piece suited them both well and played on their strengths. In the Three Ivans variation, performed by Ian Hussey, Jermel Johnson and Andre Vytoptov, Johnson drew a lot of attention. His jumps were extraordinary and clean.
Hench and Ochoa closed this evening’s performance with some nice solos and partnering. Hench was an absolute powerhouse and at times definitely stole the limelight. Ochoa’s extensions were incredible and she seemed to have gained strength in the closing moments of tonight’s performance but still trembled at times.
All in all, this was a wonderful production with some obvious highlights. It clearly takes strength and stamina as a company to create a production with so many exceptional solos and such lengthy and intricate corps work. Pennsylvania Ballet was able to carry this off exquisitely.
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