Richardson — There are so many reasons to love The Sleeping Beauty: Tchaikovsky’s wonderful score, the sweep and grandeur of the dance, the charm of the story. Considered the greatest classical ballet of all time, it is the ultimate test for a ballet company.
So how did the Russian Grand Ballet fare?
A more stately, a more contained, a more cautious Sleeping Beauty than that performed Thursday night at the Eisemann Center would be hard to imagine. To the company’s credit, the sets were striking, the costumes lovely and the quality of the recorded score quite good.
As the ballet progressed, some of the caution began to loosen—either than that, or my expectations lowered—and some of the magic crept in.
The prologue sets up the drama to follow. Courtiers, fairies, King Florestan XXIV and the Queen assemble in the palace to celebrate the christening of the infant princess Aurora. The mood is keyed-up anticipation, only to be dashed by the thunderous arrival of the wicked fairy Carabosse.
The other Fairies dart, bourrée and hop on pointe in the most delicate manner, fingertips fluttering. Each one has her own precise variation, but all of them seem seldom to touch ground, fairly skimmering over the floor. In contrast, Carabosse (here played by a swarthy Andrey Litvinov) is all menace, striding in wide, looping arcs, brandishing a cane.
As bold as Carabosse is, Mr. Litvinov can’t convey the chilling thrill that a female counterpart can—memories come to mind of Texas Ballet Theater’s Michelle Taylor two years ago and her wild abandon, eyes glistening in glee as she terrorizes the court and as her four creepy, crawly minions wreak havoc.
But the main disappointment was the Lilac Fairy, that quintessence of delicacy and grace. Yulia Zakharenko moved stiffly and tentatively, as though a gust of wind could topple her.
The corps de ballet is another matter. There is at least a hint of spontaneity, and in the delightful garland waltz they shine. Men hold garlands low, then overhead, then start them swaying side by side, while the women weave in an out. And they smile.
The acid test to The Sleeping Beauty, however, is the Sleeping Beauty. Olga Kifyak offered a calibrated, even impeccable performance as Aurora, but never once made us believe she has the sparkle and eagerness of a 16-year-old princess. In the famous Roses Adagio where she’s supposed to pose unsupported in arabesque until the next suitor steps forward to claim her, she doesn’t manage it. It takes away that tiny little triumph we expect of a princess.
On her own, however, she offers some dazzling turns and brisk little beats.
Throwing some welcome excitement into what is often a slow second act, Yevgeniy Svetlitsa (Prince Désiré) burst into the forest like a man in command of the world. He dances with verve and elasticity, making a nice counterpart to Aurora’s greater composure. The two, in fact, seem to inspire each other by the third act wedding: he’s bold; she’s sprightly, whipping out daring turns.
Fairytale characters join the court to celebrate the wedding, with the most famous divertissements being the pas de deux for the Blue Bird and Princess Florine. It is however, the adorable Puss-in-Boots and the sly White Cat, pawing, bumping and licking each other that made you wish: why couldn’t the whole ballet have this sparkle?
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.