“The Sleeping Beauty”
National Ballet of Canada
Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
March 10, 2012
by Denise Sum
copyright 2012 by Denise Sum
Rudolf Nureyev’s “The Sleeping Beauty” is a highlight of The National Ballet of Canada’s 60th anniversary season. The challenging ballet represents the pinnacle of classicism and Nureyev’s rendering is pure opulence. The company premiere of “The Sleeping Beauty” was in 1972 and with extensive touring, put the NBoC on the map as a reputable classical company. Forty years later, the sense of pride associated with this production remains palpable. It is a marathon of a ballet, and the dancers made it through convincingly and gracefully. It is probably the most grand and lavish production in its repertoire today.
Opening night belonged to real-life couple Heather Ogden and Guillaume Côté as Princess Aurora and Prince Florimund. They have danced “The Sleeping Beauty” together before, but this time both managed to bring a new vitality to their respective roles. From her entrance in Act I, Ogden was effervescent. Her dancing was larger and more expansive, and there was new spring in her step. In her variation, she calmly tossed off crisp triple pirouettes, finishing each with a smile. She clearly articulated Aurora’s excitement and coming of age. Her rose adagio was triumphant, with nary a wobble in sight. In Act II, Ogden’s Aurora was more grown-up. Gentle and compassionate she embodied the feminine ideal. In general, Ogden’s presence feels softer and warmer than it has before. She has always been a dancer of steely strength, but has sometimes seemed distant. It is wonderful to see her grow into this role, to the point that everything down to the port de bras or tilt of the head looks perfectly natural.
Her partner, Côté, also brought a natural quality to his dancing. His long lines and elegant carriage of the upper body are undeniably aristocratic, yet his boyish charm renders his Florimund more like an approachable, modern prince. He has a bit of that Nureyev-like magnetism about him. In this version, the prince’s role is particularly exacting and unforgiving. Nureyev added substantial dance segments for the prince, including what seems to be the entire classical vocabulary. Thankfully, Côté was more than capable of meeting the challenge. Other dancers cannot be faulted for simply trying to survive the extended Act II variation, however Côté imbues it with color and lyricism. His phrasing is carefully thought out, building to a swelling crescendo. Near the end of the variation, he pushes himself in a dizzying sequence of pirouettes. Instead of looking laboured, his visible effort expresses a yearning and passion. The only hint of fatigue crept in during his variation in Act III, when he seemed to opt for a slower tempo and the orchestra adjusted accordingly.
Ogden and Côté certainly shone in the leading roles, however the entire company looked to be in fine shape. In the prologue, special mention should go to corps de ballet member Alexandra MacDonald who made her debut as the Principal Fairy. In Nureyev’s version, the Lilac Fairy is a character role, and the Principal Fairy dances the variation typically associated with the Lilac Fairy. MacDonald gave a serene, self-assured performance and impressed with perfectly placed slow fouettés in the coda. Jillian Vanstone also stood out as the third fairy (generosity), with delicate hops en pointe creating a dreamlike atmosphere. Lise-Marie Jourdain was a regal Lilac Fairy, gliding smoothly across the stage in her long dress, such that her steps were indistinguishable. It truly appeared as though she were floating just above the ground, and contrasted nicely with Carabosse’s (Rebekah Rimsay) heavy, earth-bound movements. Former NBoC dancers Rex Harrington and Joanna Ivey reprised their roles of King and Queen.
At Aurora’s wedding, the jewels pas de cinq provided sparkle. However, the diamond couple (Stephanie Hutchison and Brett van Sickle) appeared a bit stiff in the fast choreography. Elena Lobsanova and Naoya Ebe fared better in the Bluebird pas de deux. Ebe's jump has only grown stronger since he made his Bluebird debut in 2009. His batterie is clean and precise, and he covered the entire length of the stage on the brisé-volés. Lobsanova was a delightful and coy Princess Florine. The corps looked well-rehearsed. The formations were especially lovely in the waltz and the vision scene. Since Karen Kain assumed the position of artistic director, the company has been performing "The Sleeping Beauty" more regularly (2006, 2009, and 2012) and it shows in the dancers' level of comfort with the difficult choreography and pure, classical style.
Photo: Heather Ogden and Guillaume Côté with Artists of the Ballet in The Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Bruce Zinger.