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Richard Penberthy
New York City Ballet (NYCB)
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New York City Ballet - The Sleeping Beauty

by Richard Penberthy
January 6, 2007
Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.
140 West 65th Street
New York, NY 10023

Featured Dance Company:

New York City Ballet
New York City Ballet (office)
New York State Theater
20 Lincoln Center
New York, NY 10023

Richard Bernas, guest conductor

New York City Ballet

The Sleeping Beauty, Peter Ilyitch Tschaikivsky
Aside from The Nutcracker, the New York City Ballet rarely presents an evening-long ballet. And for loyal NYCB fans with a yen for two intermissions and a variety of dance experiences on any given night, it can feel a little discombobulating. After all, American Ballet Theater (ABT), the company best known for the long ballet, is just kitty-corner across Lincoln Center's plaza.

And there is that warning in NYCB's Guide to the Repertory, that there will be a cast of thousands (okay, a hundred), with scads of students of the School of American Ballet, and one begins to wonder just how long an evening it will be. But worry is pushed aside by the color and pomp of the very first scene.

Peter Martins' The Sleeping Beauty, inspired by Marius Petipa's 1890 The Sleeping Princess, and including a Ballanchine-choreographed Garland Dance incorporated into the second scene, is delightful, start to finish. It is a big production that feels more like ABT than NYCB. But it is finely made and crisply danced rather than lush, and it brings engaging young, some very young indeed, dancers to the stage. This might well be considered a children's ballet but for the length, and the only children in evidence were onstage. The rest of us in the audience ranged from our mid-teens to 90, and we were enthralled.

Projections (on a scrim) are at once painterly and mood-setting, and effectively entrance a suggestible audience. They are sequenced here at the outset to draw the viewer into the castle itself – the first projection is a distant view of the castle, next a closer view, at the gate, next on the formal drive to the castle amid the allee of trees, next at the knot gardens before the staircase, etc. Similarly, at the end of scene 2, they effect a pulling back from the castle as the gardens and allee become an overgrown jungle with the passage of time. The vine tangles that 'grow' onto the stage from both sides at the Lilac Fairy's bidding are complementary symbols of time's passage. (Scenery by David Mitchell and Lighting by Mark Stanley.)

The costumes (designed by Patricia Zipprodt and executed by Babara Matera, Ltd.) also are tempus fugit-enlistees: at the christening, courtiers and royals are in Louis XIV costumes resplendent with turquoise and scarlet and bugle beads and ostrich feathers. By the time of Princess Aurora's early womanhood – in "The Spell" – the Garland Dance is costumed in Watteau style faux-pastoral, and at the ballet's close, Louis XV costumes reign.

The plot, in a slight variation on the usual tale, is that the royal couple's steward, has failed to invite the evil fairy, Carabosse (Maria Kowroski), to "The Christening" of the baby princess Aurora. All the other fairies – Tenderness, Vivacity, Generosity, Eloquence, Courage, and most benign of all, the Lilac Fairy (Teresa Reichlen) – are there to bestow their blessings. Mid-scene Carabosse arrives with lightning and crashing, pulled in a black twisted wire chariot by her four creatures, part roach and part giant housefly, that terrify the assembled courtiers. She gifts the baby with a jeweled etui, a sewing kit cum needle case. Amid the court's approval and thanks, she declares (in pantomime) that when the princess is grown, she will prick herself on a needle and die. The Lilac Fairy interferes, saying that she will not die but sleep. The rest is the familiar tale.

"The Spell" presents Princess Aurora as a young woman (danced by Jennifer Ringer) receiving her suitors – Africa (Craig Hall), America (Ask la Cour), Asia (William Lin-Yee), and Europe (Andrew Veyette) at court. Though the dancing is fine, it is lost in the costuming. For instance, America appears as a native American with buckskins and fringes and feathers and beaded breastplate. And the other costumes are similarly over the top, masquerade. No matter, it is charming. Disguised in a grey hood, Carabosse again delivers her etui and Aurora pricks her finger. She bravely indicates she is fine, but fades quickly. The Lilac Fairy rises from a fountain to counter the curse, to transform mortality into slumber, and the court and castle fall into their long sleep. The stage set returns to forest as time passes.

"The Vision" brings Prince Desire (Philip Neal) onto the scene, in a hunting party which he separates from. The Lilac Fairy and her double octet of nymphs bring him to the vision of the sleeping Aurora who wakes to this dream, this vision. The choreography is reminiscent of Swan Lake, and the boat which takes them through the mist of (controlled) stage smoke, is none other than the swan boat. The Lilac Fairy and her nymphs enforce a separation between the prince and the princess. The pas de trois performed by Jennifer Ringer, Teresa Reichlen and Philip Neal bring the act to a close.

Act II opens with "The Awakening," which brings the flesh and blood Aurora, no longer merely dreaming, back from slumber, and sending Carabosse off with a gratifying boom and flash of fuchsia flame. "The Wedding" follows.

It is an exhilarating piñata of celebration and fragments, a confetti of tales. There are the sparkling, elegant, energetic solos and the shifting pas de deux of The Jewels: Gold (Stephen Hanna), Diamond (Savannah Lowery), Ruby (Ana Sophia Scheller), and Emerald (Tiler Peck). A temptress White Cat (Alina Dronova) and lascivious Puss in Boots (Seth Orza) dance a seduction – in furry headpieces and full masks no less. Princess Florine (Sterling Hyltin) and her Bluebird (Daniel Ulbricht) bring spectacle to the wedding, with their precision and his always pyrotechnic leaps. The Wolf (Robert Fairchild) stalks through a forest of very young SAB students and their trees to seek the still younger – and comedically talented – Little Red Riding Hood (Maria Gorokhov). The Court Jesters (Adam Hendrickson, Aaron Severini, and Giovanni Villalobos) bring high spirits with high, high leaps. The act closes with Ms. Reichlen's solo and the Grand Pas de Deux of Ms. Ringer and Mr. Neal.

Though this was a long evening, it felt like a gift, like a New Year's gift to the audience.
New York City Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty<br> The Garland Dance

New York City Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty

The Garland Dance

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Kolnik

Jenifer Ringer and Philip Neal in New York City Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty

Jenifer Ringer and Philip Neal in New York City Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Kolnik

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