Dallas — Each fall, the Fort Worth-based Texas Ballet Theater (TBT) makes the trek to the AT&T Perforing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House. While every series draws large audiences, this year’s production of The Sleeping Beauty could take the cake for the company’s best story ballet yet (performances repeat Oct. 18-20 at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth). Despite the stunning technical abilities of their dancers and Artistic Director Ben Stevenson O.B.E.’s engaging choreography, this production also highlights the complete devotion the manifestation of a fairytale. In Stevenson’s reinvention of the great Marius Petipa’s classic story ballet, the magnificent athleticism of the dancers appears in the form of sparkling sets, involved characters, and the dreamy live accompaniment from the Dallas Opera Orchestra. Although a lengthier ballet in nature, with a Prologue and three acts, what could have been a wearisome audience experience actually brimmed with mesmerizing action.
Despite being a ballet lover, I understand the grumbles and complaints surrounding some classical story ballets. Sometimes they use too much pantomime, sometimes they’re long and drawn-out, sometimes (in the words of my students) they’re just boring. Narrative ballets can be tricky! Finding a balance between furthering the plot and raising the technical bar often hinders committed attention from the audience. And yet, in TBT’s Sleeping Beauty, Stevenson formulated the perfect parts of each — with fantastic results.
Tchaikovsky’s romantic score generated wispy arms, melty pliés, and cutting angular legs. Swelling waltz steps contrasted beautifully with the precise lines of unison balances — cultivating a visually rich production. Perhaps an intentional move on the part of TBT, their performance of Sleeping Beauty correlates with Disney’s upcoming Maleficent sequel — making the character of Carabosse (the wicked fairy) particularly popular with viewers. Michelle Taylor’s characterization included distorted partner-work with her entourage of grotesque monsters — lifting, turning, and slicing through the negative space around them. The Prologue also introduced Paige Nyman as the stunning Lilac Fairy — a calm, graceful contrast to Carabosse’s wild antics. Nyman stands out amongst a cast of already talented dancers because of her sense of suspension and powerful control.
Act I displayed Alexandra Farber as Princess Aurora, demonstrating an increase in technical caliber through a difficult balance sequence. Farber made these multiple turns, extended stretches, and glamorous lifts appear effortless — particularly evident in a breathtaking, luxurious leg extension before staggering to the floor as the wicked fairy’s curse fell upon her. Devastated onlookers carried her frozen body above their heads — an image reminiscent of the written description from George Balanchine’s long lost “Funeral March” choreography.
Farber’s technical expertise continued into Act II — making her entrance with the cleanest quadruple turn that softened into a sumptuous back bend. This section also welcomed Jiyan Dai as Prince Florimund. Dai’s remarkable fluidity and suspended height in jumps remind us why he’s secured leading roles in many of TBT’s recent productions. Their haunting duet captured all the best examples of romance, magic, and grace behind classical ballet.
Another favorite moment involved Andre Silva’s comedic yet prolific portrayal of Gallison in the second and third acts. The latter flaunted his skyrocketing leaps and swift spins as he skimmed the space.
In an extravagant wedding ceremony, guests like the quirky Puss-in-Boots and White Cat, the Bluebird duet, and the Russian “Ivans” incited a lighthearted, celebratory shift in the movements—opting for amusing animalistic interactions and acrobatic feats. David Schrenk’s performance in his Bluebird duet was particularly notable due to his fantastic jumps, enthusiastic turns, and fearless support in partnering. In a satisfying conclusion, Farber and Dai pledged their devotion to one another in one final pas de deux. Farber’s proficiency and comfort in a variation of multiple turns, a jump, and a fish dive into her partner’s arms simply radiated maturity and indulgence.
» The Sleeping Beauty has five performances, Oct. 18-20, at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth. Click here for tickets.