Sunday February 17th, 2013 evening - Peter Martins' marvelous production of SLEEPING BEAUTY is midway thru a two-week run at New York City Ballet. I wanted to see every cast, but that proved impossible this year for various reasons. If all goes according to plan, I'll see it three times.
Andrews Sill and the NYCB musicians gave the Tchaikovsky score - a veritable goldmine of melody - the full romantic treatment. A large contingent of SAB students were called in to bolster the court scenes. The fairy set-piece of the Prologue - with the ballerinas in their sorbet tutus - is a delight, Balanchine's Garland Waltz remains a structural marvel, the Lilac Fairy's sailboat is a lovely touch, and the fairy-tale characters who dance at the wedding are charming: their 'stories' wittily distilled in a series of picturesque vignettes.
The production affords endless opportunities for the Company's soloists and corps dancers to shine, and shine they do. Joshua Thew and Gwyneth Muller are the tall, benevolent monarchs and Christian Tworzyanski as Catalabutte maintains his dignity against the assaults of the vengeful Carabosse. In the hunting scene, Faye Arthurs is a beautifully bitchy Countess - for all her manipulative hauteur you still feel sorry for her when the Prince dismisses her - and what a lovely treat to see Kaitlyn Gilliland among the picnicking courtiers.
The fairies were aptly cast, each according to her 'gift'. Gretchen Smith, one of the Company's most versatile dancers, showed off her lyrical side as Tenderness, and Mary Elizabeth Sell her gorgeous smile and lively dancing as Vivacity. Ashley Laracey - when do we get her Lilac Fairy? - was sheer perfection as Generosity, Alina Dronova a fluttering golden songbird as Eloquence, and Georgina Pazcoguin a vivid Courage (the 'finger fairy') danced on the grand scale. Their cavaliers - Mssers Dieck, Gordon, Stanley, Sanz and Scordato - looked dashing, led by Justin Peck as the Lilac Fairy's cavalier. And the Lilac Fairy attendants numbered several of my current corps favorites, all pretty as could be.
Marika Anderson played Carabosse to the hilt, a gleeful villainess with wonderfully projected facial expressions. After she's defeated in a fiery blast, we move in to the Kiss and then to the Wedding where Adrian Danchig-Waring (as Gold) made us wonder why he's not a principal yet - he dances (and looks) like a young god. Megan LeCrone's dancing as Diamond had a lustrous amplitude, Sara Adams' Emerald was both spirited and polished, and Lauren Lovette was an enchanting Ruby. Sarah Villwock's enticing White Cat played well off the teriffic Puss-in-Boots of Taylor Stanley, yet another feather in Mr. Stanley's cap. Daniel Applebaum's lanky Wolf terrorized Claire Abraham's tiny Red Riding Hood, and Daniel Ulbricht leapt and swirled as the Jester with panache, his sidekicks Allen Peiffer and Ralph Ippolito keeping pace in this athletic trio.
Replacing the announced dancers in the Bluebird pas de deux, Ana Sophia Scheller and Antonio Carmena illuminated this familiar set-piece with their personal glamour and technical finesse. For all Antonio's generous bravura dancing in the solo and coda, it was his finely held high arabesque at the end of the adagio that lingered in my mind. Ana was simply radiant; she has the gift of making her every move, gesture and expression part of a dazzling dance experience. Her upcomng debut as Aurora is writ large in red letters on my calendar.
In her Lilac Fairy debut, Rebecca Krohn exuded a natural sense of pure goodness: in calm control of the situation when Carabosse threatens and later orchestrating the encounter of Aurora and the Prince in the production's magical Vision Scene. Rebecca's dancing had a serene and dreamy quality, and what a pleasure to watch this long-legged beauty as she moved thru the evening, imperturbable in her knowledge that all would end happily ever after. I've been a huge admirer of Ms. Krohn since her earliest days in the corps and so her performance tonight was a particular satisfaction for me. There's a passage in the Vision Scene where the Lilac Fairy simply walks along a double diagonal of nymphs and I couldn't help but think: '...this beautiful girl...I knew she would be here one day...and here she is."
Another major debut tonight was Robert Fairchild as Prince Desire. I expected perfection from him, and that's what I got. Being handsome is a great gift for any dancer, but then you have to deliver. That his Prince was impeccably danced and that his partnering was a marvel - excellent fishdives! - almost goes without saying at this point. Rob's encounter with Rebecca's Lilac Fairy was so movingly played by both dancers. "Why are you so unhappy?" she asks. "I have no one to love..." is his unvarnished reply. That is soon set to rights. Robert's performance was as satisfying to the eye as to the heart; that he's now one of the great male dancers in the world is beyond question.
Ah, the elegant Sterling Hyltin...what an Aurora she gave us tonight. She was simply a joy to behold every step of the way: from her first thrill of romantic awakening as she beheld the four princes seeking her hand to the final triumph of a queen with a picture-perfect consort, Sterling's performance was one luminous experience.
Her royal breeding couldn't stop her girlish delight from manifesting itself as the suitors jockeyed for position and the gorgeous melody of the Rose Adagio loomed up from the pit. Sterling flashed a stellar extension in the first supported series of encounters with her princes; she moved through each demanding passage of the adagio with total assurance and grace. Gathering the roses, a burst of sheer and total joy illuminated Sterling's sheer excitement of the moment as she laid the blooms at her mother's feet. She wrapped up her triumph with the iconic balances which were wondrously steady and secure. In her variation that follows, both Sterling's sleek line and her bright allegro footwork came into play as the solo moved from reflective to celebratory.
Onward and onward the ballerina went, basking in the romantic dream of the Vision Scene and in the technical demands of the Wedding pas de deux in which she and Robert so beautifully portrayed the spirit of love triumphant. Sterling's Aurora is a jewel.
The performance was thus a real pleasure from start to finish, but how tepid the audience's reactions to all this wonderful dancing. The house seemed nearly full and reasonably attentive, yet there was scarcely a dusting of applause after some of the variations. The character dances drew the biggest responses but even then it was pretty lame. At the end, everyone got up and rushed to the exits; it almost seemed like the dancers might not get called in front of the curtain. All that talent and artistry, under-appreciated. Well, but some of us knew what we'd seen.
Of course the interlude between scenes in Act I has become a late-seating opportunity. This can be solved so easily: take a pause, bring the house lights to a quarter and get the stragglers seated. Then back to darkness and let the music begin. It would take all of 60 seconds; it's safer than having people fumbling around in the dark, and is far preferable to having Tchaikovsky simply serve as an accompaniment to the parade of latecomers. Does no one think of these things?
And the Promenade...please, get rid of the junk. The Metropolitan Opera has Chagall, and all we get is FAILe, whatever that means. And ugly furniture. The glorious massive Nadelman sculptures have become a place to park half-empty champagne flutes, and the huge open space that Johnson and Balanchine gave us now has the feel of an airport lounge. Come on, NYCB...you can do better than this. Raise up people's spirits, don't pander. It's the ballets that matter.
PRINCESS AURORA: Hyltin; PRINCE DÉSIRÉ: *R. Fairchild; LILAC FAIRY: *Krohn; CARABOSSE: Anderson; TENDERNESS: Smith; VIVACITY: Sell; GENEROSITY: Laracey; ELOQUENCE: Dronova; COURAGE: Pazcoguin; GOLD: *Danchig-Waring; DIAMOND: *LeCrone; EMERALD: *Adams; RUBY: *Lovette; WHITE CAT: Villwock; PUSS IN BOOTS: Stanley; PRINCESS FLORINE: Scheller; BLUEBIRD: Carmena; LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD: ++Abraham; THE WOLF: Applebaum; COURT JESTERS: Ulbricht, Ippolito, Peiffer