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American Ballet Theatre

'Sleeping Beauty'

by Colleen Boresta

July 6 (m), 2011 -- Metropolitan Opera House, New York, NY

American Ballet Theatre’s current production of The Sleeping Beauty, choreographed by Kevin McKenzie, Gelsey Kirkland and Michael Chernov, received a great deal of negative criticism when it premiered in 2007. Critics and audience members alike complained that ABT’s Sleeping Beauty had too many Disneyesque features. It also had horrendous costumes and scenery, including a curtain that looked more like a modern shower curtain than anything found in a fairytale palace.

The 2011 production of ABT’s The Sleeping Beauty is much better than what I saw four years ago. The Disneyesque features have been toned down considerably. For example, the Lilac Fairy is no longer pulled to the ceiling at the end of the ballet. The shower curtain has also vanished. My biggest current complaint is how much of Act III (“The Wedding Celebration”) has been eliminated. Puss in Boots and the White Cat, Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, and Cinderella and Prince Charming only appear very briefly at the beginning and end of this act, and they don’t get to dance their solos. I can understand ABT wanting a shorter, more child friendly Sleeping Beauty, but in that case cutting these fairytale characters’ divertissements is a strange call. New York City Ballet has a streamlined version of The Sleeping Beauty which contains all the fairytale characters’ dances.

The Sleeping Beauty begins with the christening of Princess Aurora. Due to a mistake made by the King’s aide, Catalabutte, the fairy Carabosse is not invited to this royal event. She crashes the christening, and declares that when Aurora turns sixteen she will prick her finger on a spindle and die. The Lilac Fairy softens the curse by saying that Aurora will not die, only sleep for 100 years.

In Act I (“The Spell”) Aurora celebrates her sixteenth birthday. Carabosse, disguised as an old woman, gives the Princess a spindle upon which Aurora pricks her finger. The Lilac Fairy returns and makes sure that as well as Aurora, the King, the Queen and the entire court fall asleep for 100 years.

In the next act (“Prince Desire’s Journey”) the Lilac Fairy shows a bored and unhappy Prince Desire a vision of Aurora. He falls in love with her and begs the Lilac Fairy to take him to the sleeping Princess. When he finds her, Prince Desire of course awakens Aurora with a kiss. In Act III (“The Wedding Celebration”) Aurora and Desire get married.

The July 6th matinee performance of ABT’s The Sleeping Beauty is noteworthy especially for Xiomara Reyes’ wonderful performance. As Aurora, Reyes stands out for her sparkling footwork. She is not a dancer known for her balances, so Reyes’ Rose Adagio is a lovely surprise. She doesn’t hold her balances for a long time, but they are all very secure. Reyes has a very flexible upper body which she uses beautifully at the beginning of the Act III grand pas de deux. Her gorgeous port de bras enriches her solo in the same pas de deux. Reyes is also a very good actress. In Act I (“The Spell”) Reyes really seems like a glowing sixteen year old ready to face life and love. She is celestial in Act II’s vision scene and a happily confident young bride in the final act.

Cory Stearns is very young Prince Desire with an engaging personality. After he sees the vision of Aurora, he is like a puppy dog in his eagerness to find the Princess and marry her. Stearns is not as exciting a dancer as some of the other ABT male principals, but his solos were well performed. Stearns is also a very attentive partner. In the past, Stearns has been paired with ballerinas (Veronika Part and Michele Wiles) who were too tall for him to effectively partner. The petite Reyes is a much better fit for him.

Stella Abrera dances the role of the Lilac Fairy with lyrical grandeur. Her serene control is embellished by Abrera’s beautiful epaulement and her gorgeous line.

As the Bluebird, Jared Matthews is very disappointing. Both his jumps and entrechats lack height and his ballon is very weak. Yuriko Kajiya, however, shows gossamer lightness and delicacy as Princess Florine.

American Ballet Theatre’s The Sleeping Beauty has greatly improved since I first saw it in 2007. I hope that in the future it will become even stronger with the addition of the fairytale characters’ divertissements in the final act of ABT’s The Sleeping Beauty.

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