Friday, February 22, 2019

NYCB's Sleeping Beauty has Radiant New Aurora

Indiana Woodward and Anthony Huxley, photo @ An Rong Xu

Natural Auroras in Sleeping Beauty are surprisingly rare for a ballet that's performed so often, all over the world. Many ballerinas try it, many ballerinas can do the steps, but very few ballerinas have that combination of charm, radiance, joy, AND classical technique to really pull off the transformation from a sixteen year old in the birthday party to the regal monarch in the wedding scene. Margot Fonteyn was a legendary Aurora. A film made when she was 50 showed that she could still nail all the Rose Adagio balances and be a remarkably convincing teenager. In my live ballet-going experience, Alina Cojocaru, Diana Vishneva, and Sterling Hyltin are/were wonderful Auroras. Well tonight I can add another natural Aurora to this very small list: Indiana Woodward.

Woodward as Aurora, photo @ Erin Baiano
Indiana Woodward has always been a solo whose career I've followed with joy. About three years ago she stepped in for an injured principal in La Sylphide and was exquisite -- light, playful, entrancing. Since then her career has gone from strength to strength. So it was with great eagerness and anticipation that many balletomanes watched her debut tonight as Aurora in Peter Martins' version of Sleeping Beauty.

It was a wonderful debut. Woodward is petite, bubbly, with a joyful smile and a winning stage presence. She bounced onstage in those iconic pas de chats and the spring in her jump already won the audience over. In the Rose Adagio some balances could have been more secure but overall she conveyed a confidence that seemed to grow stronger as the Adagio progressed. In the final set of promenade balances she raised her arms in fifth, snapped them out in an arabesque, and Aurora's triumph was her triumph.

Huxley, LeCrone, and Woodward, photo @ Erin Baiano
But it wasn't just the birthday party where Woodward showed her suitability for the role. In the Vision scene she darted in and out of the Nymph corps formations like a sprite. In the Wedding pas variation, Petipa has a deceptively simple variation that depends more on subtle changes in epaulement. The famous diagonal has Aurora simply stepping forward delicately while wafting her arms upwards and twisting her wrists. She looks as if she is channeling the fairies at her christening. In this variation one noticed that Woodward's upper body sings in a way that doesn't always happen in a company as neoclassical as NYCB. (As an example, Tiler Peck, an excellent dancer and maybe the company's strongest technician, gave a rather joyless, efficient Aurora last week because her upper body simply does not sing.)

Huxley as Prince Desire, photo @ Erin Baiano
Woodward had ample help from another impressive debutante. Anthony Huxley has long been one of the company's finest classicists, known for his soft landings on jumps and tight fifth positions. As the prince he was both a fine partner (the fishdives in the Wedding pas de deux went off without a hitch, although they could have had slightly more snap) and an impressive soloist. His variation had perfect double tours into arabesque, all done with attention to turnout, posture, line, and of course fifth position. At the end of the evening the reserved Huxley even smiled. It was a wonderful evening for these two artists, the kind of debut that everyone dreams of having.

Ralph Ippolito, Roman Mejia, and Christopher Grant as the buffons
The rest of the evening showed some of the strengths and weaknesses of the current NYCB roster. NYCB currently has plenty of talent when it comes to short virtuoso dancers. Harrison Ball was both handsome and technically immaculate as Gold in the Jewels pas de quatre. Ball is another dancer who understands fifth position. Roman Mejia as the central jumping jester wowed with the height of his jumps. And Daniel Ulbricht and Erica Pereira flew across the stage as Bluebird and Florine. Ulbricht is a veteran principal, Ball a soloist, and Mejia a junior corps member. But they can all fly high. It makes the audience very happy.



Mira Nadon as Courage, photo @ Devin Alberda
Unfortunately NYCB also has some gaps in the veteran female soloists. Megan LeCrone was tapped to play Lilac Fairy and I couldn't imagine a worse match of dancer to role. She does not have the sweet authority, the softness and grace of movement, the expressiveness in her mime, nor the flexibility and extension to make any impact in the role. In the Jewels pas de quatre Unity Phelan was a strong Gold, but Brittany Pollack and Ashley Laracey didn't have the sparkle to make the Gems pas de quatre number work. Laracey was also a washed out, low-impact Lilac Fairy. On the other hand Olivia MacKinnon (Vivacity), Miriam Miller (Generosity) and Mira Nadon (Courage) stood out as excellent Fairies -- beautiful and graceful. All are still in the corps. These corps girls deserve more chances.

But still, the evening belonged to Indiana and Anthony. This is the first Sleeping Beauty I saw with them but I know it won't be the last. In fact, there's another performance with Indiana and Anthony on Sunday, February 24. If you don't have a ticket, buy one.

I attended two other performances and in no particular order, here are some highlights from the two other performances I saw:

Sterling Hyltin as Aurora
- Sterling Hyltin is still one of the most radiant, charming Aurora's I've ever seen, and Teresa Reichlen an amazingly authoritative, technically strong, graceful Lilac Fairy. In the performance I saw this double duo anchored an otherwise uneven performance with their impeccable classicism and grace.

Here is a clip of the Vision Scene with Hyltin and Reichlen. Russell Janzen was the Prince. (Janzen by the way looks princely and partners well but desperately needs stamina when it comes to solo work -- he just about gave up dancing in the Wedding pas variation and coda.)



- Sara Mearns on Instagram often talks about "going crazy." Sometimes that's not entirely appropriate to the ballet she's dancing. But it is absolutely appropriate when she's playing Carabosse, or "Sarabosse" as she dubs it. She gave a wickedly fun, over-the-top performance in the otherwise rather joyless Tiler Peck (Aurora)/Tyler Angle (Prince)/Ashley Laracey (Lilac Fairy) performance.

You can see Sara Mearns' awesome "Sarabosse" in this video:



- Adrian Danchig-Waring (still out due to injury) made a welcome return to the stage as a hilariously over-the-top King, and it was paired with Aaron Sanz's even funnier Catalbutte. No other King/Catalbutte pairing quite tapped the duo's comic potential the way Danchig-Waring and Sanz did.

Forever the best White Cat and Puss n Boots
- I know Indiana Woodward will probably give the part up now that she's dancing Aurora, but she and Taylor Stanley own the White Cat/Puss n Boots variation. Makes me more grateful I got to see them dances it one last time.

- Sydney Rose Gerstein was an adorably spunky Little Red Riding Hood.

- Peter Martins' Sleeping Beauty might be too streamlined for some and the intermission after the Vision Scene is awkward, but it continues to serve as a great showcase for the entire company, and it contains one choreographic gem: Balanchine's Garland Waltz, an exquisitely intricate dance where SAB students weave in and out of the corps de ballet. It was one of the last things Balanchine choreographed and this is the only production where we can see his Garland Waltz. For that reason alone, Martins' Sleeping Beauty is a treasure.

And now, here is NYCB in an unexpectedly funny promo for Sleeping Beauty:

2 comments:

  1. I saw Fonteyn do Sleeping Beauty at the Met in the late 60's or early 70's (either the spring season of '68 or '70--probably both). At that time, the Royal Ballet generally came to NY every other year for about 6 weeks. Fonteyn was the greatest Aurora I've ever seen--and now I'm eager to see Indiana Woodward's performance, thanks to your wonderfully detailed review. In her fifties in this role, Fonteyn was so youthful, brimming over with joy, so exuberant and so full of life. When she raised her eyes and smiled out at the audience you felt as though she was smiling directly at you, even if you were sitting in the balcony. Aurora requires tons of personality as well as physical energy. Without the personality what is the point? Fonteyn was literally the "pride of England" and perhaps for this reason she totally understood who Aurora was...and had the right sensibility about how her whole life had led up to her 16th birthday--and how the whole kingdom had gone into her upbringing and were counting on her. Anyway, after having seen Fonteyn dance live myriad times in her fifties and looked at clips of her dancing in her twenties, I have concluded that she became an even stronger dancer in her fifties. All that experience--and the inspiration of having a new partner who was younger, handsome, virile and overwhelmingly talented (and totally devoted to her) cannot have hurt. And anyway, Fonteyn had those perfect feet, that teenage body! People often overlook that she had a dynamite body. It helped her to sustain a youthful appearance although her face was not unusually young looking. She's one of the few female dancers who actually had a relatively large, beautiful, perfectly sculpted rump (that's what grounds Isabella Boylston). She also had a tiny bodice and a back of steel. And long, lithe, legs and exquisite feet. Her arms were so sexy, with those muscles like epaulets at the top of her shoulders and the beautiful, long, sinuous muscle wrapping around beneath her upper arm and over long, delicate wrist--it made her them arms look so sexy, naked--long, lean and willowy all at the same time...One thing that also enabled her to stay young looking onstage was was that her neck had remained in tact and her cheekbones weren't so prominent that age would cause the skin to pull too tightly across them, as we see now with Alessandra Ferri at times, when she danced Eugene Onegin two seasons ago with ABT, for example. (That's not a criticism of Ferri.) But as Fonteyn neared 60, the muscles between her shoulders and neck became much shorter--they gathered together as they inevitably do around that time. It happened to me in the previous 5 years and I could kick myself for it. Anyway, this slight physical change transformed her appearance, finally, and she began to look as she was wearing thin. Still, it's amazing that she danced so long. Few people understand that she needed the money. Desperately. (After she retired and became ill Nureyev paid both her medical bills and her husbands until he passed away after years after her death.) Anyway, the role of Aurora requires PERSONALITY GALORE and great acting ability, which leads to my question: Why doesn't the NYCB give older dancers of stature, such as Mearns or Reichlin, etc. a crack at it? I love Mearns' Lilac Fairy. But boy would I love to see Mearns dance Aurora! They could have a season in which just the older heavyweights get to do a single week of Auroras! Maybe Wendy Whelan will weigh in on this...

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    1. Janet, I read Fonteyn's biography where at the end of her life she lived in a tiny, roofless shack in Panama. Very sad. I had read that her husband also gambled away a lot of her money. But I agree about her youthful, radiant Aurora. There are enough video clips for us to see the magic.

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