Sleeping Beauty, Take 2

Photo by Rosalie O'Connor
Last night I saw a second cast of Alexei Ratmansky's much-talked about Sleeping Beauty. And again, I was amazed at how Ratmansky demanded (and got) all the ABT dancers to drop their usual dancing instincts and to dance his way. Again, you noticed the lower free leg in passé, the chaine and pique turns in demi-pointe, the very specific, rounded, modest épaulement, the low extensions in developpé, attitude, and arabesque, and the lack of overhead lifts. The mime was all there, meticulously articulated by Carabosse (Nancy Raffa), the King and Queen (Victor Barbee and Kate Lydon), and Catalbutte (Alexei Agoudine). All this could never have happened without much rehearsal time, coaching, and a strong artistic vision. And for that, I thank Ratmansky.

With that being said, the cast I saw last night of Sleeping Beauty also highlighted the painful fact that even when ABT dances like a company, they often don't dance like a very strong company. Many of the women have little to no jump -- even with the ban on flying grande jetés, one notices how little elevation and ballon the women have. The Garland Dance also showed the ABT corps' weaknesses -- they struggle with crisp formations. Snappy entrances and exits become traffic jams, and the whole thing just looked messy.

Sleeping Beauty demands excellence not only from its leads, but from the many variations. The Fairy Variations in the Prologue have long been a source of joy for balletomanes. The Fairy Variations last night were frankly sloppy and indifferently danced. Yes, the dancers followed all of Ratmansky's rules, but each fairy also chugged through her variation without much joy or sparkle. Cassandra Trenary (Canary) was maybe the best of the fairies but that's not saying a lot. Most disappointing was the Lilac Fairy of Devon Teuscher, a dancer I've admired in previous performances for her strength. Teuscher's Lilac Fairy variation last night was a mess. She struggled with the pirouettes in arabesque so much that one wonders why they didn't use another notated variation that apparently Veronika Part has been dancing in her performances. She also completely stopped dancing during the Fairy coda. Teuscher's acting choices were also strange. She made the Lilac Fairy rather imperious and aloof, without any of the graciousness usually associated with the role.

Devon Teuscher, photo by Kent Becker

Sarah Lane was the Aurora. Lane on the surface has the potential to be a perfect Aurora. She's small, petite, and when she burst onto the stage in her pas de chats she looked like she was going to be very special. And in a way, she executed the choreography better than the other Aurora I saw (Gillian Murphy). For one, Murphy struggled executing the menages of chaine and pique turns in demi-pointe. I think this might be a shoe issue -- Murphy wears Gaynor Mindens, which are extremely hard in the shank. Lane however executed those steps with a delightful ease and crispness. The choreography looked more natural on her.

However Lane suffers from something I'm going to call "Peasant-Pdd-itis." I'm referring to the peasant pas de deux in Giselle, which is often given to mid-tier soloists in ballet companies. Lane's been stuck in this mid-tier soloist level at ABT for so many years -- in 2008 she made her debut as Aurora, but since then her chances at lead roles have been miniscule. And she's danced lots and lots of peasant pas de deuxs. I've noticed that many soloists who are assigned the same variations year after year are often very technically proficient, very lovely, very tasteful. However, they don't project much beyond proficiency and generalized charm to the audience, because they've never been given the opportunity to be anything but, well, proficient and charming in the Peasant Pas de Deux and similar parts. (This can happen in companies that don't even dance Giselle. For instance, at the NYCB there's quite a few soloists who have the same issue.)

Lane's Rose Adagio was actually technically fine -- a few shaky moments, but almost every dancer has them. What she didn't know how to do was give the illusion of really nailing her balances. More experienced Auroras will often make the first balance very short, and make each consecutive one longer. Or in the final promenades, really hold the last balance before snapping their arms out in triumph (to huge applause). She tripped over the Queen's train in the exact moment when Aurora is supposed to collapse -- a nice coincidence. In other moments, Lane showed her technical proficiency, but again, a more experienced dancer will know how to milk the spotlight. In the Vision Scene Aurora balances on a shell. Facebook pictures reveal that the shell has a foot support so the Aurora can look like she's balancing forever. But Lane sort of stepped on the shell and stepped off. She has all the necessary skills in her arsenal to be a great Aurora except for one: how to sell her own performance. She's dancing Aurora with the same brisk charm she'd dance the Peasant Pas de Deux. But Aurora is a princess.

Herman Cornejo's part is much smaller, but in him you see the experience of someone who is able to project beyond the footlights. The devilish batterie of the Act 3 variation suited Herman -- whereas Marcelo Gomes came to grief with all those small beats, entrechats, and double tours, Herman sailed through it. What's more, he knew how to sell it. Before the double tours he'd stop for a brief second, and then explode into the air. During the entrechats he traveled almost to the apron of the stage before beginning the series. The crowd went wild. Again, these are skills a dancer only acquires when they're allowed to develop beyond the peasant pas de deux. The partnering between Cornejo and Lane was very fine. In the Vision Scene I noticed a lovely moment when Lane rested her head on Price Desire's shoulders. They did not do the fish dives, but it's probably a good thing -- the fish dives really only look good with a very tall cavalier. The final fish dive pose was great, although I wish Ratmansky would allow that vertical lift/drop into fish dive that traditionally ends most Wedding pas de deuxs.

Photo by Kent Becker
Misty Copeland and Gabe Stone Shayer were the Bluebird and Florine. First of all, a few things have been inserted back into this pas de deux: first are the ear cupping motions by Florine (although Florines still seem to be instructed not to really emphasize that motion much), and second of all, the ending overhead lift (although the "flying" gestures are still a no-no). Shayer is still learning in this role -- his form suffered and his elevation is not on a level with say, Daniil Simkin. In those split leaps across the stage Shayer kept bending one knee, and his brisé volé's were sluggish and careful. Misty Copeland has been on a whirlwind of publicity (she's published a book, been on 60 Minutes, presented at the Tony Awards), but her dancing, oddly enough, also suffers from Peasant Pas de Deux-itis. There's nothing objectionable about it, but again, she doesn't project. She is one of those ABT women who have not just a weak jump, but no jump or elevation. In the final diagonal theoretically the Bluebird and Florine should sort of fly across the stage together, as the Bird has finally taught Florine how to fly. But Copeland's complete lack of elevation in the petit batterie was a problem.

The Jewel fairies last night were excellent -- Skylar Brandt (Diamond) dancing with the spirit of someone determined not to dance the peasant pas de deux for 10 more years, and Luciana Paris (Silver), Nicole Graniero (Gold), and Gemma Bond (Sapphire) really making their variation sparkle. Courtney Lavine showed beauty and promise in the brief Cinderella solo.

This is a wonderful production by Ratmansky. The dramaturgy, the sets, the artistic choices all show a sound mind and (more importantly), a strong belief in ABT as a company, and not just a collection of stars and soloists. But Ratmansky has also challenged the ABT dancers as never before, and only time will tell if they can live up to these challenges.


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