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PostPosted: Wed May 30, 2007 2:48 pm 
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Robert Gottlieb in the New York Observer on La Bayadere:

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 03, 2007 10:13 am 
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American Ballet Theatre
The Sleeping Beauty
Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center
New York, NY
June 1, 2007


Marius Petipa first presented “The Sleeping Beauty” in 1890, to a score commissioned from Peter Tchaikovsky. Since then, stagings of the ballet have taken both inspiration and limitation from Petipa’s creation, when an evening at the Imperial Ballet in Czarist Russia was likely to last much of an evening, and include pauses to dine, to converse, and to ogle the latest fashions and the women who wore them. It was a leisurely process.

Times have changed. Although there’s still dining, conversing, and ogling, in every respect a night at the ballet generally can, and usually does, pass more quickly. The dancers can move faster and with greater skill and efficiency, the most complicated-looking sets can be changed at the push of a button, and costumes that may have taken hours to assemble in Petipa’s day can now be removed and replaced in a relative heartbeat.

Any staging of “The Sleeping Beauty” that aspires to mine, but not simply recreate, Petipa’s original is thus challenged both to retain the flavor (and, of course, much of the choreography) that Petipa created, but also to make the ballet a modern work of art that appeals to audiences accustomed to life in the fast lane. American Ballet Theatre’s sumptuous new production of “The Sleeping Beauty” walks this artistic tightrope. While additional streamlining and updating would have been welcome, the fact that the presentation succeeds as well as it does in updating this classic to fit more modern sensibilities is a tribute to the vision and obvious dedication of Kevin McKenzie, Gelsey Kirkland, and Michael Chernov, who are collectively credited with creating the additional choreography and the staging that make the more than century-old Petipa production a classic for this century as well.

It would not be possible, in one review, to list all the changes that the creative team has made. But a few examples: Gone is much of the tedious dancing by the Prince’s friends and hangers-on in the introductory section (the “hunt” scene”) of Act II. Gone too are most of the fairy tale character dances in Act III, replaced by distillations. And, thankfully, gone is one of the silliest of scenes, when the Prince, having finally found the sleeping Aurora, can’t figure out what to do next and asks the Lilac Fairy, who tells him – essentially – ‘dummy, use your brain’. This Prince Desire is no dummy; he knows what to do instinctively.

Instead, the production gives us a new Garland Waltz that is as intelligent as it is beautiful to watch. Not only does this dance stand, or dance, on its own, but in this conception it becomes entwined with the action, with the upheld garlands serving as gateways for the entry of the foreign princes during Princess Aurora’s 16the Birthday Party. And instead of opening Act II with the sleep-inducing hunt scene and accompanying dances, this version has Prince Desire and friends jetting across the stage in a series of non-stop leaps that make them look like deer on the run. [A program note indicates that this production was ‘inspired by the 1952 staging of Konstantin Sergeyev for the Kirov Ballet. Having not seen that production, I can’t tell if these and other choreographic improvements were so inspired.] And this production’s Carabosse is updated to be more than just a wicked witch – she’s an insect-like sci fi marvel with bee-hive hair who (at least as embodied by the redoubtable Martine van Hamel) looks a little like a combination of Marge Simpson, Barbra Streisand, and the Bride of Frankenstein. It’s a little scary and a little funny at the same time.

But even though this production to a large extent succeeds in shooting adrenalin into what can at times be a tedious presentation, some artistic choices sabotage this effort. For example, in tandem with streamlining the “hunt scene”, this production seems to have added some brooding by the Prince that inordinately extends that same low-decibel section of the piece. It is unfortunate to have added the wonderful new introduction to the Prince in Act II, only to slow things down to a crawl immediately after. And at the beginning of Act I, this production spends much too much time having the King vent his rage at seeing a banned spindle. This preliminary scene could have been done much more quickly to the same effect. And there are still choreographic dead spots that, while accurate for Petipa purists, are nevertheless guaranteed soporifics to its pre-teen target audience (and accompanying relatives). This version is much too intelligently done to come across, at times, as simply a museum tapestry that moves. But perhaps, over time, this creative team will fix these and other minor stumbles. It’s been done. [As I recall, the previous production went through several revisions after its initial season.]

The cast selected for this World Premiere presentation matched the caliber of the production, both in ability and execution, and in demonstrating a connection with the heritage both of the piece and the company.

It could not have been coincidental to have Veronika Part, who was born in St. Petersburg and is a former ballerina with the Kirov/Maryinsky Ballet, dance the first Princess Aurora in this restaging of a ballet so bound historically to Russia. But whatever the reason, and in the face of many who questioned the casting, Ms. Part did a fine job. Currently a company soloist, Ms. Part’s promotion to principal is long overdue.

Having seen her Odette/Odile with the Kirov, as well as more recently with ABT, I expected Ms. Part to be a technically accomplished Aurora. But she appears more comfortable now than she did during the first few years after she joined ABT, and is definitely sleeker. The transformation makes her line even more crisp than it was before; and her never-ending ponche arabesques even more glorious to watch. Most impressive, however, was the simple clarity of her movement. Nothing was out of place – every step she took was executed with extraordinary clarity and precision -- almost as if she’d been coached by a dancer whose reputation for perfection is legendary. Which, of course, she was.

Understandably tense, and obviously careful, in Acts I and II, she nevertheless did all that she was asked to do, sometimes sufficiently, sometimes brilliantly, but always appropriately, with no mistakes. And in Act III, she relaxed and became exciting to watch, with a hint of the warmth and sensuality that usually permeates her performances. Given time, her Aurora will blossom.

Her Prince Desire needs no such nurturing – Marcelo Gomes is having an extraordinary season already, and his performance in this production simply provides added gloss. He moves with the command and strength that one would expect (he literally devours the stage), but also, given that he’s one of the company’s taller dancers, with surprising speed and agility (as he demonstrated even more spectacularly last week as Oberon in “The Dream”). And his partnering abilities are top-notch. Simply put, he is an invaluable, and perhaps irreplaceable, member of the company.

The performance’s Bluebird was danced by Herman Cornejo. Cornejo was Cornejo. At this point in his performing career, that probably says it all. Xiomara Reyes was a flourishing Princess Florine. As the Lilac Fairy, Michele Wiles (who replaced Gillian Murphy) needs to show, throughout her performance, the sparkle that finally appeared in Act III.

But for sheer fun, nothing topped the reappearance of former company members who returned to add even more pedigree to a production awash in it. In addition to Ms. Van Hamel as Carabosse and Victor Barbee as King Florestan (both of whom are no strangers to current ABT productions), this performance included Susan Jaffe as the Queen, and Wes Chapman as Catalabutte. All added class to an already classy stage. And seeing Gelsey Kirkland, whom I haven’t seen on stage in nearly 25 years (and who will dance Carabosse in later performances), made it all even more magical.

Finally, homage must be paid to the artistic team that created the sets, costumes and lighting for this production. I must confess that, being somewhat familiar with the ballet, I did not take time to look at the program until long after the performance, and had no idea who was responsible for what can only be described as the most awesome – in the truest sense of the word - of fairy-tale frameworks. Finding out that these sets and costumes were created by theatre legends Tony Walton and Willa Kim, and the lighting by the equally respected Richard Pilbrow (whose lighting for Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” I remember to this day) and Dawn Chiang, instantly explained how they could possibly have been so extraordinary. Even if this production had been a failure, the sets, costumes and lighting would have been remembered as perhaps the finest examples of how to make a fairy tale come to life.


Last edited by balletomaniac on Mon Jun 04, 2007 9:41 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 04, 2007 1:51 am 
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NY Times makes the rare and unfortunate error of publishing a review without a byline, but the text strongly suggests it is Alistair Macaulay. His review seems to match what I've read elsewhere - a pretty (if over-costumed) production, that does the job, but is pretty bland choreographically and doesn't quite hang together.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/04/arts/ ... 4slee.html


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 04, 2007 4:13 am 
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balletomaniac wrote:
........ Marius Petipa first presented “The Sleeping Beauty” in 1890, to a score commissioned from Peter Tchaikovsky. Since then, stagings of the ballet have taken both inspiration and limitation from Petipa’s creation, when an evening at the Imperial Ballet in Czarist Russia was likely to last much of an evening.........

........ American Ballet Theatre’s sumptuous new production of “The Sleeping Beauty” walks ...[an]... artistic tightrope. While additional streamlining and updating would have been welcome, the fact that the presentation succeeds as well as it does in updating this classic to fit more modern sensibilities is a tribute to the vision and obvious dedication of Kevin McKenzie, Gelsey Kirkland, and Michael Chernov........

.......But even though this production to a large extent succeeds in shooting adrenalin into what can at times be a tedious presentation, some artistic choices sabotage this effort..........

.........The cast selected for this World Premiere presentation matched the caliber of the production, both in ability and execution, and in demonstrating a connection with the heritage both of the piece and the company.........

.........Even if this production had been a failure, the sets, costumes and lighting would have been remembered as perhaps the finest examples of how to make a fairy tale come to life.


Thanks, balletomaniac, for your detailed and level-headed review!
Your clear eye and extended perspective is much appreciated by someone who couldn't be in NYC to see the production.


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 04, 2007 7:10 am 
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Balletomaniac wrote,

"And instead of opening Act II with the sleeping-inducing hunt scene and accompanying dances, this version has Prince Desire and friends jetting across the stage in a series of non-stop leaps that make them look like deer on the run."

Am not at all sure what is meant here by "sleeping-inducing".

As it happens, the hunt scene is one of the most beautiful in the whole ballet, at least, as it was originally conceived by Tchaikovsky and Petipa. It also contains, by the bye, some of Tchaikovsky's finest music for this ballet.

This is where we learn that our time-capsule has reached Another Epoch, for the dances are quite unlike those in the Prologue and Act I!

Here is Petipa's libretto, that you may find on Wikipedia incidentally,

Acte II
11. Colin-Maillard
12. Scène
I Danse des Duchesses
II Danse des Baronnes
III Danse des Comtesses
IV Danse des Marquises
13. Farandole
I Scène
II Danse

There is a beautiful little game of blindman's buff, which if done right, is the most poetic, the most suggestive thing imaginable, and then the Prince, whose character is gradually being unfolded to us throughout this scene and these dances, "disports himself" gracefully, as one used to say, with the ladies and gentlemen of the hunt.

(In fact, this scene was the most successful moment in Matthew Ganio's performance as Désiré here at Paris, now that I think about it.)

I have not yet seen Miss Kirkland's version, but what you report here is alarming, and if this scene has been slashed or disrupted, all I can say is that to do so is a serious error, "adrenaline-drenched " or "fast-lane" as we are all imagined to be.

Without wishing to be in the slightest discourteous, might I add that the term is "arabesque penchée", not ponche. I allow myself this impertinent remark, not only because French is the language of the dance, but because the word "penché" itself means something very important. A "pente" means an incline, a slope, the curve created by the body, and tapering along the back, outwards into the line of the leg.

Therefore, arabesque penchée cannot possibly refer to the splits on one leg that one sees at the present time. The precise degree of slope, depends on the "thoughts, feelings and emotions" that the dancer intends to get across at that particular moment.

Finally, we should be grateful for explanation as to how the mime passages in the ballet have been dealt with.


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 04, 2007 8:45 am 
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Oh dear, from the sounds of Macauley's review (and his writing style alone has rapidly elevated him to godlike status for me), the ongoing Disney-ification of classical ballet continues. So disheartening!

In the meantime, though, if anyone is going to Tuesday's performance, would you be so kind as to keep an eye out for a young friend from the corps who is apparently getting a big break that night with a featured role. His name's Cory Stearns and since I only have the news second-hand, I don't know which part it will be, but if you spot him and can deliver a rave review here on Wednesday, I'd be ever so appreciative! :D


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 04, 2007 9:36 am 
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Thanks for the comments.
I was beginniing to think that Macauley and I were in lock-step. Obviously, I disagree with him on this one, although essentially we were taking opposing positions about the same thing: He appears to have preferred a more traditional SB; I liked what I viewed as 'updating' and would have preferred that it had gone further.
But I more fundamentally disagree about the sets and costumes. I thought they were spectacular -- whether they were "Disneyfications" didn't occur to me (possibly because I've been 'Disneyfied', and what others may see as Disney (e.g., Eyvind Earle, Peter Ellenshaw, and others), I see simply as what a fairy tale should look like. To me the sets and costumes were not at all overdone (except perhaps in the hunt scene), and certainly not more than what I recall of the previous ABT production.
As for the inquiry about pantomime -- it's still there (except for the "dummy, use your head" mime from the Lilac Fairy), much as it was from my recollection of previous versions. And although I'd have preferred less of it, it was done with sufficient clarity that my 'date' for the evening - my nine year old niece - was able to figure it out.
And I looked up the word ponche (or penchee), because I wasn't sure of the spelling. Ponche was what I found. I guess the sources I used were ignorant also. But thanks for the correction, Kanter; I'll remember for next time.


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PostPosted: Tue Jun 05, 2007 10:33 pm 
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In regards to the ABT reunion,

balletomaniac wrote:
Although I knew that many members of the audience were former ABT alumni, I was able to recognize few of them whom I hadn't seen or seen pictures of in the interim. It would have been helpful if the organizers had conjured a way to introduce the alumni to the audience (as opposed to what was said: 'Look around; the person sitting next to you or behind you may be a former ABT dancer'). I know with 300 of them it would have been difficult, but it would not have been as tedious as it might sound, since most, if not all, the audience would have been interested. After all, it is a reunion of sorts for the audience as well.


It was good to see you there, balletomaniac. I understand your point but I think though that several of the ex-dancers would have preferred not to have the spotlight on them at all times... It can be quite unnerving. Perhaps a little flower in their lapel might do the trick?

I was fortunate enough to run into a few ex-ABT dancers whom I knew, most of whom were from the West Coast, but it perhaps intimidated by date for the evening who I think would rather watch the dancers on stage instead of getting chummy with them.

As for the performance itself, I was impressed by Stella Abrera, who seems to have matured quite siginificantly over the last year and currently exhibits much more stamina in finishing off her dances.

"The Dream" is a fun little ballet but with not a whole lot of dancing.


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 06, 2007 1:55 pm 
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Robert Gottlieb's review of Sleeping Beauty in the NY Observer:

NY Observer


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 06, 2007 8:26 pm 
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For me New York City at it's best is a place where you live each day of your life as fully and as happily as possible. It's a place where geniuses and simple souls are equally visible and equally valuable. It is also a place of dreams.

It is a totally human creation--a modern human creation.

It can be the pulse throbbing at the speed of light and it can be the gentle poetic heart as described by Paul Simon in the wonderful timeless songs of Simon and Garfunkel. It's also a place where little children live and play.

New York City is considered by many to be the cultural and entertainment capital of today's world. When the heart and the mind need to smile New York is often there--Sesame Street, Broadway, The Apollo Theater, Lincoln Center....

New York City is also a mixture of many of the world's cultures. This was evident during the week as dances by George Balanchine from Russia and Frederick Ashton from England were performed by artists born in America, Russia, Latin America....(There are more than thirty 'nationalities' represented at the ABT.) This was all enjoyed by an audience equally as diverse.

This week Lincoln Center's artistic soul and Central Park's life giving beauty complimented each other beautifully. Frederick Ashton's "The Dream" (based on William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream") and "Sleeping Beauty" could have been set in the vast green and wooded expanses of Central Park.

This week stepping in and out of the park's natural beauty into the dream world of dance, poetry and music was the most wonderful of experiences.


I was fortunate enough to be able spend to about a week in New York.

One of the absolute highlights of this visit was to have seen several wonderful performances by Veronika Part.


* Veronika Part *

One Of The Most Poetically Beautifully Moving Human Beings That I Have Ever Seen !


* Veronika Part *

In "Sleeping Beauty" (June 4, 2007).

One Of The Best Performances That I Have Ever Seen !

And Possibly The Most Beautiful !


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 07, 2007 8:35 am 
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Buddy -- Nice comments about NYC. Though I no longer live in NYC, I still consider it my home, and it's refreshing to see some positive comments. And I agree with you about Veronika Part -- I also saw her June 4 performance (as well as the one reviewed), and she relaxed and gave an even better performance than she did on June 1. As soon as I get a chance, I'll reference this in a later review (I also saw Gillian Murphy and Diana Vishneva. It gets even better!). And, the production, generally, is running more smoothly too.


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 07, 2007 10:29 am 
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Thanks, balletomaniac, for your kind words and comments. I haven't had a chance to read much of your June 1 review, but I look forward to it. I also look forward to reading your upcoming review about June 4 and more.

There were so many wonderful performances by so many wonderful dancers at the ABT last week. I hope that I will have a chance to comment on some of them. The June 4 performance of "Sleeping Beauty" in particular showcased one brilliant performer after another.

Next door at the NYCB there was other greatness and delight going on as well.

One thing that I am beginning to feel about ballet dancers, beyond their wonderful talent, is that....

They Can Be Really 'Lovable' !!


[last 'sentence-thought' added later]


Last edited by Buddy on Thu Jun 07, 2007 2:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 07, 2007 1:28 pm 
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Veronika Part

One of the first beautiful things that I noticed about Veronika Part was her ability to produce moves in a most wonderful, soft, musical, slow motion manner. These moves were what I watched for the most in all of her performances. They could occur anywhere and would elevate an already lovely performance into the realm of the sublime. I have never seen anyone move more beautifully.

There are so many things that Veronika Part does so well--one foot spins with one leg arched backward that come to rest in a state of suspension, small hops on point that don't seem to touch the ground, Greek goddess-like posture and positioning, angel soft beginnings that develop into a flow of entrancing artistry....

Everything that she did would be moving along beautifully--

Then A Move Or Sequence Of Artistic Wonder Would Occur.


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 07, 2007 6:20 pm 
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For those of you who are Veronika Part fans, you may want to take a moment out and express your support for her promotion to Principal. It is my understanding that this may be a critical point in her career and it would be wonderful to keep her In New York.

You can contact ABT here....

http://www.abt.org/contactus/default.asp

or you may want to try and contact the board of directors. If anyone knows a good way of contacting ABT please let me know. I am in the process of sending a message of support to them myself.


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 07, 2007 9:13 pm 
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In theory, the board of directors doesn't have any say in the artistic workings of a company beyond very high level things (eg. budgets), so they shouldn't have a say in the promotion of a dancer. Nevertheless, practice is the same as theory only in theory.

--Andre


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