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Festival Ballet Theatre

'The Sleeping Beauty'

by Kathy Lee Scott

April 4, 2009 -- Irvine Barclay Theatre, Irvine, California

For a ballet company with few strong male dancers, "The Sleeping Beauty" gives a perfect opportunity for its lady dancers to shine. And several rose to the task at Festival Ballet Theatre's April 4, 2009 performance held at the Irvine Barclay Theatre in Irvine, Calif. This was the last production in its season.

The company welcomed Victoria Luchkina as Princess Aurora and Sergey Kheylik as Prince Florimund. Luchkina formerly danced with the Theatre Yuri Grigorovich Ballet in Russia as a principal. Kheylik has appeared with Los Angeles Ballet and Vienna State Opera after winning gold medals at three international dance competitions.

Upon her entrance, Luchkina held the audience in her capable hands. She exuded youthful exuberance in her moves, almost bordering on too wild at times, but she was so happy, no one minded. One cute sequence had Luchkina whisper to three of her attendants using a penché. For the fourth attendant, she just bent over to whisper in her ear, displaying the princess's frivolity.

Kheylik's entrance in Act 3 was more sedate as he strode across the stage head bowed. Even so, his carriage said royalty. During the pas de deux, he yearned for the sleeping princess, enchanted by her vision. His aerial work appeared effortless and controlled.

Both Luchkina and Kheylik danced safely, limiting beats on jumps or eliminating them, but when they danced together, they shined.

Evil fairy Carabosse swept in wearing a gold dress and black chiffon cape. Played by Alexander Kalinin, he broadly gestured his displeasure at not being invited to the christening. In exchange for the slight, he condemned the princess to death. His young attendants wore mouse costumes but failed to convey evilness. The young girls jumped and hopped, but their experience was too limited to embody the "bad guys."

Festival Ballet's principal Elizabeth Chasteler danced the Lilac Fairy role. Technically, she performed well, but she needed to use her back more when she extended her arms. In developpé, she threw her leg up instead of lifting it into the stretch.

The four prince suitors (Maco Doussais, Tyler Nelson, Cameron Schwanz and Evan Strand) wore identical jackets but with a different colored plume in their hats. Each strode across the stage regally and supported Luchkina during the Rose Adagio promenades.  Luchkina and Kheylik made the difficulty partnering between them in this scene seem simple and natural.

In the Enchanted Princess role, former FBT member Bryn Gilbert came from San Francisco Ballet School. Her fellow student, Steven Morse, danced as the Bluebird. Both are enrolled in the school's trainee program, which gives them opportunities to perform with SFB.

While both technically excellent, they exuded no chemistry together. Morse almost pulled Gilbert off pointe in one supported arabesque, but later he rolled her carefully down from a lift. His entrechats battu seemed to move front and back instead of side to side. He also did simple sauté arabesques, without embellishment but with superb ballon.

Members of Festival Ballet Theatre II filled the positions of fairies, nymphs and the wedding scene specialty dancers.  Jamie Kopit personified happiness with light, quick steps. The Fairy of Serenity, Ashley Ike did well during her chassé on pointe but had trouble sustaining her developpés. In a pale green outfit, Nicole Viale as the Fairy of Benevolence showed secure footwork with strong leaps. Janae Sykes, the Fairy of Generosity, followed the pizzicato strings to the beat, but her stiff bourreés bounced her arms and torso. The Fairy of Temperament, Natalie Matsuura, attacked her pointe work with confidence and precision. Four of the fairies wore pastel tutus, with the fifth in a bright red one. It jarred sharply with the others, giving the scene a slightly disjointed feel.

Two FBTII dancers gave outstanding performances: Sareen Tchekmedyian as the White Cat and Megan Yamashita as Little Red Riding Hood. Both excelled in their variations, outshining Gilbert.

Tchekmedyian personified a kitty, light on her feet and feisty. She washed one ear, then unexpectedly scratched the other. For greater humor value, she could have waited for the repeat of the sequence to scratch.

Tchekmedyian's Puss In Boots (Strand) seemed a bit hesitant to stroke her extended leg before she slapped his wandering hand, but otherwise, they interacted well together.

Yamashita embodied Little Red Riding Hood with excellent acting . When the Wolf (Schwanz) surprised her, she showed it in her face as well as her body. She trembled so much boureéing from him that she dropped her flower petals.

Also of note, in the wedding scene "Polonaise," Emily Robert stood out as a youngster to watch. She enjoyed her time on stage and infused her moves with enthusiasm and joy.

The background people failed to enhance the scenes, especially when Carabosse arrived with thunder and lightening. Instead of being startled and looking around or "talking" to each other, they sat still.

Artistic Director Salwa Rizkalla followed Petipa's choreography for the most part, but simplified the steps for the young attendants. The company danced to a recording of Tchaikovsky's music before dreamy backdrops. Don Guy lit the production creatively.

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