The Sleeping Beauty Theatre Review – An Enchanting “Beauty” in Orange County

Princess Aurora (Diana Vishneva) and Prince Desire (Marcelo Gomes) perform their wedding dance

(Costa Mesa, CA) March, 2015 – The last three months have been very kind to the memory of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Since last December, Orange County has been celebrating his three ballets, starting with a divine Christmas production of The Nutcrackerat Irvine Barclay Theater, who will also feature “Swan Lake” in late March. But at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Tchaikovsky’sThe Sleeping Beauty” is a collaboration of three prominent cultural giants. And the results are nothing but amazing. Dancing to the live music of the Pacific Symphony, the American Ballet Theatre presents their amazing world premiere at the Segerstrom Hall.

 

Carabosse, the evil fairy (Veronika Part) casts a spell

It is a celebratory time for King Florestan XIV and his queen (A beautifully regal Victor Barbee and Tatiana Ratmansky) as they celebrate the birth and christening of their daughter, Aurora. All are invited for the occasion, especially the fairies, led by the Lilac Fairy (a gracefully elegant Veronika Part), who is also Aurora’s godmother. As all the fairies present their gifts to the princess, which include qualities of beauty, wit, generosity, liveliness and intelligence, the evil fairy Carabosse (a delightfully evil Nancy Raffa) arrives at the party, outraged that she was not invited. Even though the monarchs indicate that it was an oversight, Carabosse casts a curse on the princess where on her 16th birthday, she will prick her finger on a spindle and die. Fortunately, the Lilac Fairy curtails the action, transforming the death curse into a sleeping spell, where, after 100 years, she can be awakened with a kiss by a young Prince. And when Aurora (Diana Vishneva) does turn 16 and falls into a deep sleep, the Lilac Queen casts a sleeping spell on the entire kingdom and, 100 years later, guides a young Prince Desire (Marcelo Gomes) toward his new sleeping bride and their promising destiny.

 

 

Princess Aurora (Diana Vishneva) dances in front of the violin pages

From the very moment the curtain rises at the beginning of this production, the audience is instantly transported to a picturesque 18th century magical world, and this is due to the brilliant scenic and costume designs by Richard Hudson, whose sets and props were constructed in Milan and Venice and the dancers’ costumes were made in New York. The castle and forest scrims, as well as the braid-like palace columns, enhance this imaginative world on stage. And the exquisite costumes seem to flawlessly combine the classiness of the regal court with the dynamic nature of the fantasy elements, especially when famous fairy tale characters come on stage, such as Carabosse’s rats, Puss-in-Boots and the Ogre dance with their oversized heads. Adding to this is ABT Artist in Residence Alexai Ratmanski’s delightfully spacious staging and refined choreography (whose foundation is based on the ballet’s original choreographic visionary, Marius Petipa), as well as the incredible power of the music performed live by the Pacific Symphony. With these three elements, the extraordinary world of this timeless classic is brought to life beyond expectations.

 

A glorious wedding in "The Sleeping Beauty"

If the costume and scenic designs, the choreography and the music serve as the “body” to the production, than the performers serve as the ballet’s heart. All the artists---the dancers, the non-dancing players and the supernumeraries---all shine in their own singular and combined moments. Without words, their actions tell the story with such incredible ease. And all the dancers, even the background dancers, are pitch perfect throughout each subtle change in music and rhythm, without any flaws at all. Special standout performances include Devon Teuscher, Misty Copeland, Sarah Lane, Skyler Brandt and Stella Brandt as the guardian fairies in the Prologue, whose dance styles beautifully match their characters. Other noteworthy performances that occurred during the final wedding scene act include Isadora Loyola and Sean Stewart as The White Cat and Puss-in-Boots, whose coquettish feline movements are both hilarious and chic, as well as Cassandra Trenary’s Princess Forine and Daniil Simkin’s Bluebird.

 

But the artists representing the soul of this body called “The Sleeping Beauty” are the show’s headliners Diana Vishneva and Marcelo Gomes. Vishneva’s one woman show last year highlighted her multifaceted abilities of modern dance. But with “Beauty,” the role of Aurora seems to be created specifically for her and her skills as a classic ballerina. Vishneva exudes a combination of innocence and grace, while also demonstrating her fierce prowess as a skilled dancer with her toe work, extensions and her fluidic movements throughout her body.  She masterfully infuses a unique type of spiritual elegance with her determined athleticism, bringing her story to life in unexpected ways, a true testament of her art. And Gomes wonderfully infuses much humanity to his Prince Desire, intertwining subtle sadness and loneliness during his initial appearance, which is transformed into exploding joy when seeing the visions of Aurora. And during the wedding’s Grand Pas de Deux, their romantic stage chemistry comes to full bloom.

Rarely has any ballet been produced to perfection. This is due to sticking with the classic artistic vision of the creator, Tchaikovsky, and the Petipa’s timeless choreography, without adding modern elements in order to be provocative just for sake of being provocative. Too many ballet companies do this kind of “revisionist art.” Thankfully, ABT’sThe Sleeping Beauty” can be counted as one of the most significant productions in the world of ballet.

Peter A. Balaskas is a journalist, fiction writer, editor, and voice over artist.

 

The Sleeping Beauty performs from 3/3-3/8/2015.

Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts

600 Town Center Drive,

Costa Mesa, CA 92628-2197

Photos by Doug Gifford and Gene Schiavone

 

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