<em>The Sleeping Beauty</em> at PNB is a Lovely Eyeful (Photo Gallery)
Classical ballet doesn’t get more classical than The Sleeping Beauty, this production especially, which, as PNB’s Doug Fullington explains it, has a lineage that extends right back to its original choreographer, Marius Petipa. When Kaori Nakamura, as Princess Aurora, balancing en pointe on a single foot, has each of her suitors turn her, hold, then release, four successive times, it’s such an apotheosis of style that it’s hard to believe a human ankle is involved. (PNB’s production, running through February 14 at McCaw Hall, employs rotating casts, so your Princess Aurora may vary. Tickets are $25-$160.)
One of the humanizing qualities of such an idealized art form is that, even with notation, there’s no better way to be sure of a choreographer’s intent than seeing his work yourself. Ronald Hynd’s wonderful version is just two choreographic generations from a 1921 Diaghilev production that toured to London, which gets you right back to St. Petersburg and Petipa.
Yet you don’t think of The Sleeping Beauty as, narrative aside, slumbering unchanged for a hundred years. It exists, in Mircea Eliade’s formulation, in illo tempore, in a once upon a time adjacent to the present. (On the other hand, this is a three-hour ballet with substantial action in pantomime, not a sing-along fairy tale, so while I can vouch for its immediacy, I can also vouch for the adorable little moppet behind me talking throughout, kicking seat backs, doing an impromptu dance break, beating time on an arm rest, and guzzling her way through a juice box.)
The Prologue presents the baby’s christening, in a kingdom with access to yards of gold lamé–Peter Docherty’s costumes start out storybook and trend towards Bedazzler–with seven fairies bearing gifts of beauty, temperament, beauty, and so on, each having a little solo. Sadly, Carabosse the wicked fairy was left off the invitations, and shows up enraged, promising deadly spindles on sixteenth birthdays, before the Lilac Fairy of Wisdom (Carla Körbes, last night) steps in to water down a death sentence into a coma.
Later, despite a strict anti-spindle edict, Princess Aurora will prick her finger on one during her debutante’s ball. Brambles (the work of Docherty) descend over the castle. A century later, Prince Florimund (Lucien Postlewaite) arrives outside, and, unmoved by the substantial charms of Ariana Lallone’s Countess, has a vision of the Princess inside. (A vision allows for the Princess to beguile him with her dancing, instead of just snoring.) A few thrusts with his sword, a kiss, and everyone wakes in suddenly out-of-date clothing, like residents of East Germany after the Wall came down.
Then there’s a wedding with a Gold and Silver pas de trois (Imler, Bartee, Cruz), an interpolation of Hynd’s, and a series of–in a “Disney on Ice” kind of way–fairytale diversions such as Puss in Boots and the White Cat (Rausch, Pacitti, the costumes for whom strongly suggest Rum Tum Tugger and Grizabella), a Bluebird pas de deux (Vinson, Porretta) and Red Riding Hood and the Wolf (Duge, Kerollis). Again, if you are a moppet, the relevance of this may be lost on you, but you should not start whistling to Tchaikovsky’s opulent music.
Finally, Aurora and Florimund have a pas de deux that confirms once and for all that Nakamura and Postlewaite are superhuman beings with titanium insteps. I haven’t spent much time detailing the dancing as such, as there end up being around 100 people on stage, and it would make a long list. Suffice to say that this is a show motivated by performance, rather than plot, and PNB’s principals attack the challenges of fully exposed movements without holding back. I don’t know that I’ve seen a ballet so often interrupted by applause.
Still, Nakamura’s Aurora requires an extra note, because from the moment she appears, stepping wtih a youthful bounce across the stage as if her knees contained springs; to her début and the way she learns to find her center with each partner; to the wedding’s pas de deux, when she is fully vulnerable, curved as if in flight, relying completely on her partner’s catch, there’s a distillation if not of character then of how life transforms us.