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Emily Hite
Performance Reviews
Deutsche Oper
Berlin, OT (Germany)

Berlin's Staatsballett - Sleeping Beauty

by Emily Hite
December 16, 2006
Deutsche Oper
Bismarckstr. 35
Berlin, OT (Germany) 10627
+49 (0)30-343 84-01 (Zentrale); Ticket-Hotline +49 (0)700-67 37 23 75 46 (+49 (0)700-OPERBERLIN)
(The Sleeping Beauty)
Das Staatsballett Berlin

Staatsballett Berlin
Postfach 354
10109 Berlin
Phone + 49 (0)30 - 20 35 42 82
Fax + 49 (0)30 - 20 35 46 37
Berlin's Staatsballett offered a well danced and pleasingly designed Sleeping Beauty delivered in an efficient manner appropriate for its Deutsche Oper venue. One of the city's three major opera houses, the Deutsche Oper is the least extravagant, most architecturally functional house to present full-length classics. Built "for the people"* rather than for an elite class, this 1961construction (rebuilt and re-opened in newly partitioned West Berlin after bombing during World War II destroyed the 1912 original structure) upholds the same intention its predecessor had: to focus on the performance onstage rather than on the house itself. No classical columns obstruct a cheap-seat view and no sparkling chandelier distracts attention from the excellence of the artistic product. Choreographer Vladimir Malakhov similarly had the interests of his audience and company in mind when arranging his version of Sleeping Beauty: the ballet is of reasonable length with only one intermission, the décor is colorful but not overwhelming, the story is fluid and easy to follow with very few extraneous characters, and soloist Shoko Nakamura makes a world-class Aurora.

Malakhov, jack-of-all-trades and international ballet star, not only choreographs, he also directs the company and danced the role of the evil Carabosse this evening. His subtly edited and updated version of the 19th Century Marius Petipa classic fit together well. With his talented dancers, he brought forth many of the nuances of the story and traditional mime. Malakhov also succeeded in presenting a fresh viewpoint on the fairytale without inventing an entirely new context or messing with aspects of the ballet that have long performed well the way they were, such as the fairy variations in the Prologue and the lush group dancing in the Garland Waltz.

Maria Seletskaja as the Lilac Fairy interpreted the Prologue mime—in which she lessens Carabosse's death sentence for Aurora to a mere sleep and prophesizes the prince's involvement—as a lovely, fluid, exceptionally musical danced conversation. Seletskaja maintained a reliable presence throughout the ballet. Her solid posture and alert but kind expression made her convincingly trustworthy; I felt secure she would bring the ballet to a happy ending.

The ballet's design delightfully evoked an English garden party, the stage covered in green plant-like scenery with pink rose covered globular bushes that could also have fit in the Queen of Hearts' croquet lawn in Alice in Wonderland. The gift-bestowing fairies wore large-diameter tutus in flower shades of matte purple, with feathered hats, jacket sleeves and a flattened bow at the hip. The costumes' modesty and similarity in color made the fairies a group more powerful together than apart; appropriately, they had a more important collective role in protecting Aurora and fending off Carabosse in this version (in other versions, vastly different colored and heavily jeweled tutus cause the fairies to stand apart as solo dancers). Aurora's suitors in the Rose Adagio stood with longish hair beneath floppy berets while the Princess spent the first act in a floral-printed tutu reminiscent of an informal sundress.

Aurora's demeanor was correspondingly relaxed: she had a clear confidence without a hint of arrogance at her teenage birthday party as she moved from one suitor to the next while finally choosing none of them. Nakamura danced more securely alone than partnered, though; the four men consistently mistimed the Rose Adagio's attitude promenades (one at a time the men walk a circle around the ballerina, who balances on pointe supported only by holding her partner's hand) and left her struggling to catch up or slow down accordingly in order to keep upright. Once free of the parasites, the ballerina executed a phenomenal yet understated series leg extensions (développé), melting from pointe to a standing foot on her supporting leg with the other suspended well above her head—the best example of making something difficult look easy I have ever seen in a Sleeping Beauty.

While Nakamura continued to shine with graceful accomplishment through the third act, her prince, Ronald Savkovic, appeared lacking in assurance by dancing with his eyes downcast. He is undoubtedly technically proficient, however, and did manage to finish his demanding variations with a winning, handsome smile, eyes finally meeting the audience. The rest of Aurora and Prince Désiré's wedding celebration in the third act involved mostly charming divertissements from various storybook characters, with only Cinderella and her Prince having nothing really to add during their pas de deux, since the mystery of the missing shoe was solved during the opening polonaise.

With only that momentary lull in the pace of the ballet, Malakhov must be applauded for speeding through act II, getting the task done of waking up the princess and moving on to the celebration. He added an interesting twist to the usual carefree, happy wedding ending: during the apotheosis, Carabosse made a final, uninvited and unexpected entrance. It was a surprising moment that would have provoked a more lasting effect had some members of Malakhov's audience fan club not erupted in applause upon his entrance. The righteous Lilac Fairy shooed Carabosse away, protecting the newlyweds' bright future, but the last reminder of evil on the loose was hauntingly dark, destroying the possibility of a fixed and everlasting sense of security in one's surroundings.
Staatsballett Berlin performs 'Dornröschen'

Staatsballett Berlin performs "Dornröschen"

Photo © & courtesy of Sandra Hastenteufel

Staatsballett Berlin performs 'Dornröschen'

Staatsballett Berlin performs "Dornröschen"

Photo © & courtesy of Sandra Hastenteufel

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