"A Storybook Sleeping Beauty''
Kirov Academy of Ballet of Washington, DC
The Lincoln Theater
December 13 & 14, 20012
by George Jackson
copyright 2012 by George Jackson
The words "Once upon a time ..." materialize before one's eyes as the curtain rises on this school production of the most classical of ballets. A file of figures, most of them clad in court finery, stands focused on a babe in arms. They hold themselves intent and, with care and dignity, begin to circulate among themselves when, suddenly, dancers - females in short tutus and in toe shoes - infiltrate the scene like shimmering beams of light. Two realms - one human and temporal and the other magical and elusive, meet in harmony. How lightly and precisely limbs articulate for the dancing! Postures are pliant. The phrasing of stretch and flex, of reach and fold, of straighten and bend is musically clear. Spun across the stage space are patterns as fine as those in a spider's web.
Obviously, although regrettably, a school company has to edit "The Sleeping Beauty". In charge for the Kirov Academy was its Associate Artistic Director, Nikolai Kabaniaev. He was assisted by faculty members Marianna Lobanova, Tamara Manukovskaya and Elena Tenchikova. Cuts have been made from the action, from the cast of characters, the number of dances and from the types of movement deployed. For instance, there is no Hunt Scene to show the Prince's previous life before he is granted his vision of the sleeping Princess Aurora. There is no master of ceremony, no Catalabutte figure, at the court of Aurora's parents (to an extent the Lilac Fairy directs traffic). Many of the famous dances remain throughout the ballet but there isn't the original's cornucopia.
The cut with the biggest impact is that of pantomime - there are no passages of pure gesture acting. When necessary, action replaces movement narration. Also, and to a remarkable degree, the mood of the dances helps to tell the tale! It isn't just the more "abstract" ensemble numbers and solos that set the scene and suggest what occurs. Even separate stories such as those of the Bluebird and Princess Florine, the Wolf and Red Riding Hood and Puss-in-Boots and the White Cat aren't really diversions. They contribute to the main narrative, the love story of Princess Aurora and Prince Desire, by informing about different kinds of couples and illustrating manners. Still, in this Kirov Academy staging I miss the contrast in weight and spacing that pantomime would have provided. Nor was my curiosity quenched about how these student dancers might have handled gesture speech compared to ballet technique.
What we get from the Kirov Academy is just under two hours of dancing, parading and action deftly interwoven to tell the story of the victory of beauty and virtue helped by fortune. Wasn't that the main message of the Petipa/Perrault fairytale? Petipa's other lessons about diplomacy and obligation are lost in this reduced version in which the envious witch Carabosse is killed. Miraculously, Kabaniaev's streamlining manages to side step the heaviness of Konstantin Sergeyev's Soviet version. Music (recorded but lively, melodious Tchaikovsky), and the sets (projected, tastefully minimal) and costumes (a bit mixed) serve. Remarkable is the uniform training in dance and deportment shown by all the students - the high carriage, the stately yet pliant gait, the lightly angled curve of the arms and, not least, a body awareness of other individuals on stage - dancing together these students converse.
Some of the soloists could be professionals already. The part of Princess Aurora, the Sleeping Beauty of the title, was taken by a petite, well proportioned girl. She has charm, the slightly shy sort but with a glow. Her time on stage doing bravura dancing is considerable, yet she was as fresh in the final Grand Pas de Deux as for her sprightly first solo and secure Rose Adagio. Her attitudes uplift ones hopes and her arabesques are utterly decisive. Needless to say, the Kirov/Maryinsky's resilient attack and delicate strength were apparent throughout the rendition of this role. Ideally, Aurora should mature from girl to woman during the course of the ballet. This Aurora, though, is only 14 years old and I'll take the undimmed intensity of her glow at the end for womanliness. The budding ballerina's name is Riho Sakamoto.
Dramatic high points in the production were the appearances of the story's villainess, Carabosse. Cast in this part was a tall young man, Kyle Allen. He came on fast, like a wicked wind, and, never stooping to camp, grew into a fury incarnate. As the Prince, Emerson Moose made poetry of his entrance - it was dreamy and desirous, yet also well bred and determined. He has good control of his long legs and partners nobly. Other notable males included Kota Fujishima (Waltz Soloist at Aurora's Birthday and Bluebird), and Oscar Frame (a Rose Adagio cavalier).
Both dancers I saw as Lilac Fairy, Deborah Davis and Audrey Wallace, had the requisite sweep but Wallace was warmer. There were many fine and individual girls for the fairy, treasure and story variations. Poignantly memorable was the Apotheosis with everyone gathered on stage and posed proudly with identical port de bras and easily pulled up spines - about 90 students transformed into storybook courtiers.
Photo: Dancers in the Apotheosis, by Paolo Galli.