“The Sleeping Beauty,” Kirov Ballet with the Orchestra of the Maryinsky Theatre of St. Petersburg, October 15, Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, CA
What if the Lilac Fairy had said to the press, “The ballet 'The Sleeping Beauty’ is not dead. It is merely asleep”? What critic or audience member would then propose that the plot of this story ballet is thin and sleep inducing? The real story, in the Kirov lexicon, is more dialectical than you might think: When pricked by a spindle, Princess Aurora falls into a 100-year snooze, and that is the very moment when the entire production wakes up to its potential and goes for broke.
The three hour and forty minute ballet opened with a dirge-like overture by the Orchestra of the Maryinksy Theatre. At the top of the show, it promised very little, and midway through the Prologue, for the first time in my life, I was wishing for taped music instead of live. That, too, changed after Aurora went under.
The curtain rises on a palace gate that opens onto a tableau vivant that prepares us for the pomp and circumstance surrounding the christening of Princess Aurora, danced by the sparkling Diana Vishneva. Sets and costumes are mostly blue and gold, and tend to match the chandeliers. The King, Aurora’s father, bears an uncanny resemblance to Puss and Boots, but this is not the time to indulge one’s magical thinking: Here comes the corps de ballet, all in lilac, looking band-box clean, followed dialectically by their leader, the Lilac Fairy (Uliana Lopatkina). Her magnetism lifts the production values a notch or three. (It must be said that the pre-performance bottleneck on the Bay Bridge, owing to construction, was now being bested by what?---a tutu jam?—on the too-small stage at Zellerbach. The bridge construction jackhammers even found their echo in the klopping of pointe shoes, never louder on that stage than tonight—“The klops heard ‘round the Bay,” one might say. We know the size of the Zellerbach stage and about the shoes of certain companies, and should be able to set both aside, but when the two merge into one, it really does begin to eat wormholes into how the performance reads.) More dissonance attended the ballonés. The upper bodies of the dancers were exquisite. Arms describe a rondure relieved ever so faintly by something heavenly. Unfortunately, the lower halves of the bodies—the legs doing the traveling—were in several instances, off-balance, causing the ballonés to pause under, rather than at the top, of their arcs, and look like throwaways, not ballonés. This reviewer is careening between loving it and not.
The rest of the fairies are fine in their roles, the Carefree Fairy having the best comic opportunity, which she uses to full advantage. Lopatkina is always lifted, and so her ciseaux are picture-perfect. The lilac fairies-in-training are zesty, clean and youthful. Carabosse (Igor Petrov) arrives in a gold leaf ratmobile that picks up the motif of the palace gate, though it, too, looks a bit cramped. She is dressed, predictably, in black, and looking more like Merlin than his female soul mate. The orchestra is playing the abracadabra music. Could this Carabosse be The Bad Fairy, boys and girls? Exit fairies, exit Carabosse. Aurora’s Sweet Sixteen Party is over, and lamentably, for her, it will be Sweet One Hundred and Sixteen before she is kissed.
By Act II, the audience is biting its tongue to keep from singing the Disney words to the Tchaikovsky waltz, while those my age, who took their ballet training wearing cotton leotards, are prompted by the music to recover memories of their very first balancés...Meanwhile, the dancers, dressed like aristocrats, themselves balancé throughout a bosky forest, where Carabosse and her co-conspirators are hiding. The San Francisco Ballet students enter. The older ones have successfully intertwined themselves into the cast of the Garland Dance. The Lilac Fairy arrives full of “take charge” energy and attack. Pretty soon, the L. fairy is looking triumphant and Carabosse has defeat written all over him. In the meantime, Prince Desiré, whom Igor Zelensky renders very much a credit to his social class, arrives looking for a sleeping beauty on whose lips to plant a kiss, but she’s not asleep yet. Once he finds her, what a kiss it shall be! It will awaken not only the entire cast, but the orchestra (and the audience) as well!
A refreshed Vishneva meets her suitors and dances possibly the most anxiety free Rose Adagio in the history of Ballet. It helps that her suitors circle her, rather than stand eight paces away, while she, poised in attitude on three toes, wonders which one will redress some ancient backstage offense by biding his sweet time before taking her hand. But this version is so rapid-fire that one is tempted to think it is the Reader’s Digest-underwritten Rose Adagio. If you’ve never seen the longer, more psychotic version, there's still enough time to decide that it’s quite lovely.
Aurora’s variation and the slow-paced violin solo that accompanies her can be heartrending. Not this time. It’s completely schmaltz-free, and perhaps that’s not bad either because the violinist is punctilious. It just takes a little attitude adjustment. I just wish the dancing were more fluid. It tends to be clean, but balky, and since Vishneva is capable of tremendous fluidity, one has to wonder whether this is simply an affectation of the Kirov? After all, the corps and coryphées do posé arabesque by stepping onto pointe, (klomp), jerking their backs into hyperextension so that their hips jut out, thus snapping, rather than floating their extensions. Whatever—abracadabra—the balkiness is gone! Vishneva is radiant, with hands that could launch a thousand ships, her extensions trend toward 180, even if held ever so briefly, and her manege of piqués is a whirl of spun sugar. Desiré also delivers a breathtaking manege, and clearly, they deserve to spend the rest of their lives together, going around in circles.
The wedding features some curious choices, but among the better ones is the Bluebird Variation, danced with great heroics by the very tall Maxim Chaschegorov, in a costume that looks a tad spare and shop-worn. The White Cat brings back Yana Selina in another comic role.
Diaghilev’s first version was not well-received. It could be that much of this is derivative of that version, and more recent versions that I have seen (San Francisco Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet) reflect more of what Ninette de Valois had in mind when she revived Sleeping Beauty as “The Sleeping Princess,” with Margot Fonteyn in the Aurora role. Almost nobody else in this cast, except Zelenksy, takes double tours from fifth, or any other identifiable position, and so his look clean and very Erik Bruhn-like. By this time, the entire production has awoken to its royal “We,” as if a multitude of mirrors has suddenly dropped down from above to reflect a faceted image of the more recent versions, and the possibilities they have brought to life. The orchestra has taken its cue from this collective revelation, and suddenly all balkiness is shaken off like a bad dream, and Vishneva’s pas de chats are as creamy as buttah.
The audience rises to its feet in approbation, while I am left wondering, “Is it an artistically sound proposition that watching a fairy tale danced for nearly four hours should makes me feel like I’ve spent that time reading “War and Peace”?”
Last edited by Toba Singer on Mon Oct 24, 2005 10:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.