Fort Worth — Over-the-top sets and costumes, sublime dancing, and a program way too long—that was Texas Ballet Theater’s The Sleeping Beauty Friday night at Bass Hall, complete with three intermissions between the Prologue and three acts.
The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Moricz, added a great deal to the luster of the event, giving its all to Tchaikovsky’s stirring music. Choreographed by Ben Stevenson after Marius Petipa and first performed by the Kirov Ballet Jan. 15, 1890, it is considered the ultimate challenge for dancers and directors alike.
The “over-the-top” is applied principally to sets and costumes supplied by Houston Ballet. Chandeliers and more chandeliers, columns and more columns, thrones and atmospheric backgrounds. For costumes: enormous wigs, gartered stockings, simple tutus in pastels, exaggerated tutus in black, elaborate costumes for nobility, funny hats for peasants. The only other thing over-the-top was in the prologue featuring Michelle Taylor’s portrayal of the venomous Carabose, the fairy that did not get invited to the christening of Princess Aurora. In huge black-feathered tutu and feathered sleeves, Taylor dives into the role with wild abandon, eyes glistening with glee as she terrorizes the court of King Florestan and as her four creeping, crawling minions wreak havoc.
She places a curse on the baby Aurora, and only the Lilac Fairy (danced by the exquisite Carolyn Judson) has the power to intervene. Instead of dying from a finger prick on her sixteenth birthday, Aurora will sleep until awakened by a prince’s kiss.
Carabose’s interruption has a bracing effect, too. All those delicate fairies and their dashing, nimble feet and fluttering fingers, as well as gallant cavaliers and fairy attendants, create a world of fantasy and elegance of such high degree that a little mayhem is welcome. And mayhem there is: thunder and lightning, the gleeful Carabose prancing and minions attacking stunned guests.
Act I opens in a jubilant vein, celebrating Aurora’s birthday. Four suitors from distant lands vie to win her over. Aurora, innocent and giddy with excitement, accepts each rose a suitor offers, and as a show of independence, she holds every long arabesque without a helping hand. As Aurora, Leticia Oliveira calibrates every step and angle with uncanny precision without diminishing Aurora’s youthful, eager nature.
Naturally, Carabose can’t stay away, but this time disguised as another guest. The fateful poisonous prick sends Aurora reeling and terrifies the onlookers. As the Lilac Fairy casts a spell, the remaining guests and royalty fade away in the growing darkness to sleep for a hundred years.
Act II bumps along at a slow pace with a lot of extraneous but vigorous dancing by peasants and Prince Florimund’s hunting party. The Prince (a virile and handsome Carl Coomer—in real life married to Oliveira) has dreams of a beautiful girl to marry while nymphs dash in and out, tantalizing his fantasy. (Shades of Act II of Swan Lake?) At last, the Lilac Fairy escorts the Prince through a maze of spider-webs and into a boat, finally arriving at Aurora’s bedchamber.
Act III makes up for the busyness of Act II, with some splendid dancing by The Bluebird (Simon Wexler) who throws his legs forward with his back arched backward again and again, as though propelled by a high wind. It’s quite a feat. Puss-in-Boots and the sly and sleepy White Cat paw, bump butts and heads, and lick each other, two creatures forever testing each other’s mettle.
Oliveira and Coomer bring the show to a glorious and heady end: fish dives, high overhead lifts and Aurora’s leaps into the Prince’s arms, and then the energy revs up to a new level as Coomer bounds across stage like a comet, and Oliveira whirls with brilliant speed, faster and faster.
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.