The Sleeping Beauty: NYCB relishes this traditional version

There is a general sentiment that ballet technique has improved over the years. Then a ballet company does The Sleeping Beauty and we realize that ballet technique may have changed, but it isn’t necessarily better. This 1890 masterpiece challenges every single dancer in a company. The short, charming fairy variations are pitfalls for dancers. They expose clumsy épaulement, poor posture, weak backs, sloppy feet. How well a company dances The Sleeping Beauty is really a test of the company’s classical mettle.

New York City Ballet kicked off a two-week run of Peter Martins’ adaptation of the ballet. It is one of his most inoffensive adaptations. The scenery by David Mitchell and costumes by Patricia Zipprodt are sumptuous, traditional and pleasing to the eye. Martins does abridge some of the score (the knitting scene is gone, as is the dance for the Prince’s hunting party), but he respects Petipa’s structure. Most of the choreography is the standard “after Petipa” text. It also has George Balanchine’s wondrous choreography for the Garland Dance and Martins includes all of the music for the jewels in the last act. It is interesting to compare this to Alexei Ratmansky’s historically-informed reconstruction for ABT.

The cast I saw mostly confirmed that NYCB remains a strong classical company, not just a neo-classical company. There are a few noticeable differences in this revival. The first is the tempi. In the past, variations were often played at a breakneck tempo. Last night, conductor Andrew Litton took a luxurious approach to many of the dance highlights. Maybe too luxurious. A few of the fairies seemed to have difficulty dancing their variations so slowly. But overall, the slower, more expansive tempi allowed the choreography to breathe in a way that was not always so in the past. The Puss-in-Boots duet’s slapping has been toned down as well.

Tiler Peck as Aurora was technically hard to criticize. Her musicality and attack are always impressive. She clearly listens to the music carefully, as she times her movements with stunning accuracy. An example is the chaînés turns during Aurora’s entrance. Peck times each chaîné turn to a note in the music. She’s also an incredibly strong dancer. She bounds onstage in the Rose Adagio and you immediately know that the role holds no terrors for her, not even the famous balances with arms au courant.

Her characterization, however, was a tad generic. Tiler Peck has always been better at nailing technical challenges rather than channeling a character. She didn’t differentiate between Aurora’s three big scenes. The bubbly girl who bounced onstage in the Rose Adagio was the same as the girl in the Wedding pas de deux. Bright smile, very winning, but there was no evolution of character.

Peck was helped by the courtly, impeccable Prince Desiré of Chun-Wai Chan. Chan is one of the company’s most elegant dancers and partners. He’s a natural Prince. One appreciates Chan’s meticulous partnering, his beautiful épaulement, his likeable and modest stage presence. His solo work is impressive too. His double tours in the Prince’s variation in the Wedding pas de deux were impeccable. What a debut for him and what a prize he is for the company.

This is really nitpicking, but one quibble: fishdives in the wedding pas de deux were too careful. Overly careful fishdives are now depressingly a part of many Sleeping Beauty productions. I saw a cinema relay of the Royal Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty and the fishdives were also slow and careful compared to older films.

Lilac Fairy might be Ashley Laracey’s best role. Laracey is always wonderful in adagio work. As the Lilac Fairy she was soothing, maternal, with a slightly remote air befitting a fairy. On the other end of the spectrum, Ashley Hod made her debut as Carabosse. Hod clearly was having fun with the role. She was campy and funny. Both Ashleys articulated the mime extremely well by NYCB standards.

Emma Von Enck and Roman Mejia also made debuts as Princess Florine and the Bluebird and both looked born to play these roles. Von Enck was delicate and sparkling, Mejia flew across the stage in Enrico Cecchetti’s famous diagonal variation. They got the biggest applause of the night.

Other dancers of distinction in this very large cast: Olivia MacKinnon’s fierce finger-pointing Fairy of Courage; Harrison Coll’s hilariously weak Catalabutte; KJ Takahashi, Andres Zuniga and Daniel Ulbricht making the Court Jesters trio almost watchable; the adorable SAB in the Garland Dance. Diminutive Wakana Ikegami was spunky and winning as Little Red Riding Hood.

When done well, The Sleeping Beauty is really about the Divine Right of Classical Ballet. Sure, there is a royalist/tsarist angle to the story, but it pales compared to the three-hour display of how harmonious, how thrilling, how beautiful classical ballet can be. There is no perfect performance of The Sleeping Beauty. It makes too many demands on too many dancers. But this NYCB performance did a good job of persuading me of that Divine Right.

I'm Faye Pearson and I own Q Nails and Spa. I love providing high-quality nail services to my clients and seeing their reactions when they see their new nails. I take pride in my work and always aim to give my clients the best possible service. I opened Q Nails and Spa because I wanted to create a relaxing environment where people could come to escape the stresses of daily life. I believe that a little bit of pampering can go a long way, and I'm happy to be able to offer that to my clients.

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