The Sleeping Beauty

I tend not to like narrative ballets (especially full-length narratives) because I find there's not enough dancing. Sure, there's usually a nice pas de deux, but usually it's just a lot of graceful gesturing. So I was pleasantly surprised that Peter Martins's take on The Sleeping Beauty includes quite a bit of dancing, much more than I expected. I guess that when the main plot points of a story revolve around parties and dreamy visions, there's plenty of opportunities for divertissements and fantasy dances.

The libretto (by Marius Petipa and A. Vsevolozhsky)for this version hews pretty closely to what most people know (likely from the Disney animated film). We begin at the palace where the king (Andrew Scordato) and queen (Gretchen Smith) are celebrating the arrival of their daughter, Princess Aurora. The Catalabutte (Sean Suozzi) and his lackey (Giovanni Villalobos) provide a welcome amount of humor. Soon, various fairies are bestowing blessings upon the princess. This is where the pageantry and opportunities for dance begins, though some fairies are better than others. The Fairy of Vivacity (Mary Elizabeth Sell) for example, seemed to be a beat behind, like the pace of the dancing was too much for her, and she was continually playing catch up. By comparison, the Fairy of Eloquence (Claire Von Enck) expertly executed her quick, precise movements, a delightful sprite flitting about the stage.

Everything’s going swimmingly, but just as the leader of the pack, the Lilac Fairy (a warm and maternal Savannah Lowery) is about to bless Aurora, the fairy Carabosse (Marika Anderson), aka Maleficent, arrives. Stung that she was left off the guest list, she curses Aurora, saying that when the princess turns 16, she'll prick her finger on a spindle and die. The Lilac Fairy is having none of that, and uses her blessing to counteract the curse: instead of dying, Aurora will fall into a deep sleep, only to be awoken by a prince. (Check out this New York Times interview with Sara Mearns, who plays Carabosse at some performances, to find out what it’s like for a dancer to perform without dancing.)

Flash forward 16 years later, and Aurora (Sterling Hyltin) is celebrating her birthday. (It’s here that Martins interpolates George Balanchine’s Garland Dance, a brief section Mr. B choreographed for the 1981 Tschaikovsky Festival. Tschaikovsky’s entire score is beautiful.) Hyltin, of course, is resplendent as Aurora. She has a light and airy way of dancing; she articulates each movement, each minute detail, with purpose and unparalleled grace. I thrilled over the young-and-in-love look on her face as the four suitors (Jared Angle, Ask la Cour, Zachary Catazaro, and Taylor Stanley) wooed her during the full rose adagio sequence. And what a feat that is! It requires such concentration, skill, and control, yet Hyltin managed to make it look soft, effortless, and beautiful. She brings such bliss to the role, and is a joy to watch.

Of course, it’s all fun and games until someone pricks her finger on a spindle. Said spindle was snuck into the festivities by Carabosse in disguise, but instead of dying, as Carabosse had intended, Aurora only falls into a deep sleep, fulfilling the Lilac Fairy’s blessing. The Lilac Fairy then places the entire kingdom in a deep sleep, as well, while awaiting the prince. 100 years pass as brambles grow, obscuring the palace.

One day, Prince Desire (Chase Finlay) is out hunting and has a vision of Princess Aurora. (They dance a fantasy pas de deux.) The Lilac Fairy brings him to the palace, where he kisses Aurora, awakens the kingdom, and marries his princess.

The wedding celebration (almost the entirety of act two) is one for the ages. Bringing in characters from other familiar fairy tales, the celebration is an abundance of divertissements. First up are the jewels, Gold (Russell Janzen), Diamond (Teresa Reichlen), Ruby (Alexa Maxwell), and Emerald (Emilie Gerrity). Each jewel has a solo, and, notably, the music for Reichlen’s Diamond dance sounds like an 80s power ballad. Not exactly what I expect from Tschaikovsky, but entertaining nonetheless. There’s a playful sequence featuring Little Red Riding Hood (a youngster from the School of American Ballet) and the Big Bad Wolf (Daniel Applebaum); the White Cat
(Indiana Woodward) and Puss in Boots (Cameron Dieck); and buoyant court jesters (Daniel Ulbricht, Spartak Hoxha, and Harrison Coll). And Princess Florine (Ashly Isaacs) and the Bluebird (Harrison Ball) partake in the fun. Their turn includes a pas de deux, solo sections, and a brief closing pas de deux, with much of the dancing reminiscent of the Liberty Bell-El Capitan portion of Stars and Stripes. I typically like Isaacs; I’m always taken by her flair and exuberance. She didn’t disappoint here, though I was pleasantly surprised to see her in a more classic style dance, something that truly showed off her skill and technique.

What’s a wedding with a dance from the bride and groom? Prince Desire and Princess Aurora get to put on a show. Finlay is fine. He’s tall and muscular so he makes nice lines when dancing, but he’s simply not compelling or engaging on stage. Hyltin, on the other hand, it utterly captivating. She has this moment in one of her solo sections; I don’t remember exactly what she does, but I remember the feeling—she’s taking in everything, reveling in the excitement, expressing such happiness through her dancing. And those famous fish dives? Breathtaking.