October 28, 2007
A ‘Beauty’ That Lives Up to Its International Pedigree
By SYLVIANE GOLD
Talk about globalization! Connecticut Ballet’s new production of “The Sleeping Beauty,” which opened last weekend at its home base in Stamford and continues around the state this weekend and next, unites stars from South America, sets and costumes from Europe, and a multiethnic company whose members hail from near (Fairfield) and far (Honolulu, Puerto Rico, Kiev).
Of course, ballet has always been an international affair, as evidenced by “Sleeping Beauty” itself: based on a French fairy tale, created by a Russian composer and a French ballet master, and made famous here by English dancers. “The Nutcracker” may be more popular with the kiddies, “Swan Lake” better known to the grown-ups. But among experts, “Sleeping Beauty” is frequently cited as the finest of the Tchaikovsky classics.
First, it has that glorious score, arguably the best ever written for a ballet. Then there’s Princess Aurora, fated to wait 100 years for a handsome prince to wake her from her nap with a kiss. She’s traditional ballet’s least complicated heroine, but she’s also the one called upon to handle some of its most difficult maneuvers.
With four distinct settings and an enchanted forest that rises to hide Aurora’s royal palace (so she and the court can sleep in peace), this ballet also provides lush opportunities for stage magic. And “Sleeping Beauty,” first produced in 1890, lives in a remarkably nuanced moral universe, in which the good fairy cannot undo the work of the evil fairy — she can only mitigate it.
So Connecticut Ballet merits applause just for tackling this grand masterpiece of the 19th-century classical repertory. And if the report card on last Sunday’s Stamford Center for the Arts matinee at the Palace Theater is somewhat mixed, the company gets full marks for ambition — and for providing local audiences with a very credible “Sleeping Beauty” that will only get better as the company grows.
The first glimpse of the royal court in the opening scene did not bode well. The women waiting around for the christening of the newborn Princess Aurora wore flimsy-looking pink satin gowns of indeterminate period and no style; the men were in fussy black pantaloons and feathered three-musketeer hats. But as soon as the fairies arrived in their pastel tutus, things improved markedly. It became clear that Elizaveta Dvorkina’s costumes, originally created for a now-defunct European touring company, were going to be easy to categorize: the ones that danced were going to look splendid; the others were not going to matter.
Costumes don’t dance by themselves, of course, and Brett Raphael, the company’s artistic director, has staged the ballet with verve. For the roles of the 16-year-old Aurora and her prince, Florimund, he borrowed the principal dancers Cecilia Kerche and Vitor Luiz from the ballet company of the Teatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro. Ms. Kerche, a veteran, technically solid dancer who has performed around the world, was regal rather than girlish, reserved rather than impetuous — although her Aurora did seem to loosen up somewhat in Act III, when she finally got her man. Ms. Kerche’s best leaping days are probably over, but her turns had speed and elegance, and her balances were steady — yes, she passed the Rose Adagio test. Mr. Luiz was a gracious and reliable partner whose bursts of athleticism and technique were undercut by a somewhat wan personality.Personality aplenty rolled onstage with Alfredo Millan’s campy Carabosse, stepping off her evil-fairy cart in a swirl of black fabric to punish the King and Queen for forgetting to invite her to the christening. Tall and extravagantly theatrical, he’s a practiced hand at the comic strategies of transvestite ballet. His Carabosse mockingly mimicked the dances that the good fairies had just performed and cackled after dooming Aurora to die at 16 of a close encounter with a sharp spindle. The antidote to Carabosse’s evil spell was provided by the ardent Lilac Fairy of Daryna Paliy, who danced with big strokes and a lot of heart.
In the wedding finale, there were entertaining moments from Kate Loh and Alexandre Anatska as Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, Raul Peinado and Emily Sorelle as Puss in Boots and the Cat, and Ramon Thielen and Therese Miyoshi Wendler as the Bluebird and Princess Florine. And in the ensemble passages, the company looked spiffy and well rehearsed, if sometimes overly careful.
Ms. Dvorkina’s painted back cloth for the christening scene felt a little grim and underdecorated, and the magical forest that’s meant to enmesh the palace could use a little Miracle-Gro. But the setting for Aurora’s 16th birthday party was a pleasure to look at — a golden palace shimmering with fountains and white columns that any ballet fan would be happy to visit again.
“The Sleeping Beauty,” produced by the Connecticut Ballet, will be at the Maxwell and Ruth Belding Theater at the Bushnell in Hartford on Nov. 3 and 4. Information can be found at (860) 987-5900 or connecticutballet.com.