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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 8, 2019 - Volume 47 Issue 06
Pacific Northwest Ballet presents the most beautiful The Sleeping Beauty
Arts & Entertainment
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Pacific Northwest Ballet presents the most beautiful The Sleeping Beauty

by Sharon Cumberland - SGN A&E Writer

PACIFIC NORTHWEST BALLET
THE SLEEPING BEAUTY
CHOREOGRAPHY BY RONALD HYND
(AFTER PETIPA)
MARION OLIVER MCCAW HALL
February 1
(continues through 2/10)


As we left McCaw Hall after the opening night of Pacific Northwest Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty, my dance buddy - who has seen a lifetime of professional productions all over the world - turned to me and said 'I think that's the most beautiful ballet I've ever seen in my entire life!' And you know what? I have to agree.

There are certainly ballets as beautifully danced, movingly acted, and charmingly designed - many of them seen right here in Seattle at PNB. But, without a doubt, this version of Tchaikovsky's full-length fairy-tale ballet is unforgettably gorgeous and brilliantly performed by the entire company. The sold out audience cheered all night long as one astonishing solo or ensemble was followed by something just as wonderful. It's a long show - a prelude followed by three acts - and notoriously difficult for the soloists. Yet you never grow weary or see a moment of strain that would take you out of the fairy-tale world so beautifully conjured by Ronald Hynd's choreography and the lavish sets and costumes designed by Peter Docherty. And since this is the last time PNB will present this particular production of The Sleeping Beauty, it will be your last chance ever to see it.

Developed in 1993 for the English National Ballet by choreographer Ronald Hynd, this version of the classic ballet is based closely on the 1890 choreography by the Russian master Maurice Petipa, who collaborated with Tchaikovsky to realize his choreographic vision of fairies, royalty, and beauty that can only exist in storybook narratives. Hynd's version clarifies the narrative but preserves everything that is airy and sublime about the dances. He leaves out excess characters like an evil mouse army and extra storybook heroes from the Land of Make Believe, but retains and develops the choreography, as though Petipa had a few second thoughts on how to make the waltzes dreamier and the tableaux more memorable.

The story comes in four stages of Princess Aurora's life: her baptism as a baby, the curse by the evil fairy at her 16th birthday party, her awakening by the charming Prince after a hundred years of sleep, and Aurora's wedding - the splendid final act that is often presented alone by companies that cannot stage the entire romantic fairy tale. Fairies have a great deal to do with it - all seven of them arrive airborne, held aloft by their cavaliers - except for Carabosse, the elderly fairy who is left off the guest list. Jonathan Poretta is playing this role as his farewell to the company after a distinguished career - and he brings all the energy and drama we expect from him, and will greatly miss.

The star of the show, of course, is Aurora - whose role is so exhausting, technically difficult, and important to the career of any ballerina, that Artistic Director Peter Boal has cast five different dancers to perform the role. At a special discussion before opening night, three of the ballerina Auroras talked about the challenges of solos such as the 'Rose Adagio' with its famous balances, and the wedding duet 'fish dives' in which the princess plunges head-down into the arms of her prince. Lesley Rausch, the opening-night Aurora, mentioned that the role is so tiring that by Act III the dancer is performing on technique alone - relying on years of training to get through to the end. You would never suspect this from the apparent effortlessness of her execution and youthful charm on opening night. Her prince, Price Suddarth, not only supported her with the ardor of a man in love, but performed his own showpiece solos as though propelled skyward by passion.

Starring equally with the principal dancers are the corps de ballet - the nymphs, court ladies and gentlemen, country folk, shepherds and shepherdesses who give the soloists respite by performing the most fascinating and beautiful group dances while the soloists catch their breath offstage. In Act I the pastoral folk - including a group of students from the ballet school - carry arches of flowers in a waltz of such loveliness that it actually brought tears to my eyes. In Act II, after the prince has been shown a vision of the sleeping Aurora by the Lilac Fairy, and after the Dream Aurora and the prince dance with each other in a spectacular courtship, they leave the stage while sixteen escorting nymphs cross hands and perform a precision line dance, breaking into groups of eight, then four, then two, creating the impression that they're dancing in a mirror or proliferating by some act of magic. As awestruck as I was by the solos and duets of the principal dancers, I was even more delighted by the sharp togetherness of the corps, and the sense of complex and beautiful harmony they produced.

So if this ballet is to go away - with its beautiful costumes that cleverly move from the Renaissance to the 18th century, and its lavish sets with old-gold curtains and a sculptured forest that grows up and recedes - then what could possibly replace it with the same degree of beauty and perfection? While it is true that the production is dated - it has a very traditional feel to it - what else should a fairy tale feel like if not traditional? I'm all for replacing dated productions, chief among them the Sendak/Stowell Nutcracker that had become (for want of a better term) politically incorrect in terms of both race and gender. I didn't see anything so problematic in this production of The Sleeping Beauty - far from it. I saw the most pristine dancing and sparkling choreography embedded in a nostalgic fairy-tale setting.

It will take something very special indeed to replace this beautiful production - and I fear that a new Sleeping Beauty by a clever choreographer may have musical disconnects the way the old Nutcracker had - where Tchaikovsky's very particular music, bespoke by Petipa for a very specific purpose - might be knocked off its base, the way the old Sendak/Stowell Nutcracker ignored specific musical meanings. I also have difficulty imagining choreography with the distilled perfection of the Hynd/Petipa version. It's true that Hynd improved on the old master, but in subtle ways, such as making a trio of two women and a man into a trio of two men and a woman - a difference that elevated the dance to something at once classic and new. The modern overhaul of great classics is a favorite project in the opera world, but one littered with missteps - such as the weird array of Toscas we've seen at the Metropolitan Opera, Seattle Opera, and the Salzburg Festival in recent years. One worries and hopes that such missteps won't happen with a new Sleeping Beauty. It was exhilarating to see this beautiful production, and very sad to think that I won't get to see it again. I say farewell to it with fingers crossed that a new production will be as successful as the Balanchine Nutcracker has been.

In the meantime, hasten to McCaw Hall and see this gorgeous and satisfying production of The Sleeping Beauty. To quote my dance buddy, 'I think that's the most beautiful ballet I've ever seen in my entire life!'

Pacific Northwest Ballet presents The Sleeping Beauty at McCaw Hall through February 10. For more information and tickets, call (206) 441-2424 or visit www.pnb.org.

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