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Boston Ballet

'Sleeping Beauty'

by Carla DeFord

March 22, 2013 -- Boston Opera House, Boston, MA

As I was watching Misa Kuranaga in the role of Aurora, it began to dawn on me (pun intended) that standing behind her performance was that of former principal ballerina and current ballet master Larissa Ponomarenko. Kuranaga’s attention to detail, the perfect placement of each pose, the arch of her back, exquisite port de bras, and confident balances – it was all there, and it was all influenced by her Russian mentor. I found it so moving to be able to trace in the lines of Kuranaga’s body, the legacy handed down from one ballerina to another. All honor to Kuranaga for putting Ponomarenko’s coaching to such admirable use. It was an outstanding performance.

What I missed in Kuranaga was Ponomarenko’s vulnerability and her conviction that life is essentially tragic. The princess’s birthday (Act I) and wedding (Act III) were presented as joyful events, but in neither did we get a sense of the transitory nature of joy, which was always a hallmark of Ponomarenko’s performances.

Of course, the joyfulness of Aurora’s birthday is brought to a stunning halt when the curse of Carabosse is fulfilled. Kuranaga beautifully portrayed the shock, pain, and disorientation that ensues. This reminded me of her mad scene in Giselle in which she benefited from the coaching of Maina Gielgud to produce something unforgettable. Previous to her collapse, however, Aurora’s demeanor showed little or no trepidation either about her coming of age and future marriage or about the approach of some unknown malevolent force.

Another problem was a lack of chemistry between Aurora and her prince. In the vision scene, for example, although Aurora’s upper body movement begged him to find and liberate her, I had no sense that she yearned for him as opposed to any other man on the planet. In the wedding scene, when she did supported backbends in his arms, her ecstasy was unmistakable. Throughout the pas de deux, however, there was never any real connection between them.

This, I believe, was partly due to her partner. Jeffrey Cirio is in his first season as a principal, and he is a tremendously accomplished dancer. The problem is that he did not seem to have a convincing relationship with his princess. Perhaps he was thinking too much about all the tricky maneuvers of the role: the lifts, jumps, fish dives, etc. He did them all very well, but I believe he will probably need many more performances before he feels truly comfortable in Prince Desire’s boots. Once he does, my hope for him is that he will have the freedom to think about his love for Aurora and send it out beyond the footlights where we can feel it.

Joseph Gatti as Bluebird also deserves mention. The one thing the Bluebird must do is fly, and Gatti does. He achieved extraordinary height as well as precision in the air; on the ground his every gesture was refined. Princess Florine was Kathleen Breen Combes, and the expansiveness of her upper body is always a wonder. In this part she did amazingly bird-like arm movements. Made me think there might be a Swan Lake in her future.

Another impressive performance was given by Erica Cornejo as Carabosse. The last time I saw a woman in this role, I was disappointed: not nearly enough vitriol. Cornejo had plenty. She arrived on the scene with her eyes popping out of her head, her whole body ready to burst with rage and frustration. The performance reminded me of Lorna Feijóo’s as Lady Capulet in Romeo and Juliet last year, which was masterful. Feijóo and Cornejo proved that having principal dancers do character roles really pays off.

The stretch in Cornejo’s back, the reach of her arms, the way she underscored the music with every move she made was nothing short of thrilling. I loved the moment when her back was to the audience, and the Lilac Fairy overpowered her. As Carabosse began to sink down to the floor with arms raised, I thought of the Wicked Witch of the West as she melted away, leaving nothing behind but her “beautiful wickedness.” Cornejo embodied the sprite you love to hate, and she was magnificent.

Lia Cirio (Jeffrey’s sister) gave an excellent performance as the Lilac Fairy. She is extremely strong and manages all the athletic moves with ease. What I didn’t see was much individuality, however; it all seemed rather generic. My guess is that getting the steps right, which she did, trumps other considerations for her at the moment, but experience may change all that.

About the female corps: so much depends on their ability to fill the stage with intricate patterns. The discipline of this group of performers, and the delight they took in creating a kaleidoscope of precisely placed positions was obvious. The garland dance, with its concentric circles and traveling ballerina within them was especially noteworthy, but so were all the dances of the Lilac Fairy’s attendants, Aurora’s Friends, and the Nymphs. It’s always possible that such dances will be unexciting, if not boring, but these held one’s attention.

In this production not only was the corps impeccable, but the sets, costumes, and live music of the Boston Ballet Orchestra under the direction of Jonathan McPhee were of such high quality that I can’t wait to go back and see how another cast interprets the principal roles.

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