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American Ballet Theatre: The Sleeping Beauty 2016
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American Ballet Theatre: The Sleeping Beauty 2016

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American Ballet Theatre

The Sleeping Beauty 2016

At the
Metropolitan Opera House

Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director
Kara Medoff Barnett, Executive Director
Alexei Ratmansky, Artist in Residence
Victor Barbee, Associate Artistic Director
Ballet Masters: Susan Jones, Irina Kolpakova,
Clinton Luckett, Nancy Raffa, Keith Roberts
Ormsby Wilkins, Music Director
Kelly Ryan, Director of Press and Public Relations
James Timm, Director of Marketing and Brand Management
Susie Morgan Taylor, Manager of Press and Online Media

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 28, 2016

(Read More ABT Reviews.)

(See a Conversation with Conductor, David LaMarche, on the Spring 2016 Season Ballet Music.)

Conductor: David LaMarche

The Sleeping Beauty (2015): Choreography by Marius Petipa, Staging and additional choreography by Alexei Ratmansky, assisted by Tatiana Ratmansky, Music by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky, Scenery and Costumes by Richard Hudson, Inspired by Léon Bakst, Lighting by James F. Ingalls

Cast: Performed by Gillian Murphy as Princess Aurora, Cory Stearns as Prince Désiré, Stella Abrera as The Lilac Fairy, Craig Salstein as Carabosse, the evil fairy, Victor Barbee as King Florestan XIV, Alexandra Basmagy as His Queen, Keith Roberts as Catalabutte, Fairies: Stephanie Williams as Wheat flower, Rachel Richardson as Breadcrumb, Zhong-Jing Fang as Canary, and April Giangeruso as Temperament, Alexandre Hammoudi, Thomas Forster, Jose Sebastian, Zhiyao Zhang, Patrick Frenette, Blaine Hoven as The Fairy Cavaliers, Alexandre Hammoudi as the Spanish Prince, Thomas Forster as the English Prince, Blaine Hoven as the Italian Prince, Roman Zhurbin as the Indian Prince, Clinton Luckett as Galifron, Prince Désiré’s Tutor, Stephanie Williams as The Countess, Precious Stones: Devon Teuscher as Diamond Fairy, Katherine Williams as Gold Fairy, Luciana Paris as Silver Fairy, Paulina Waski as Sapphire Fairy, Catherine Hurlin and Alexei Agoudine as The White Cat and Puss-in-Boots, Betsy McBride and Patrick Ogle as Red Riding Hood and The Wolf, Courtney Lavine and Thomas Forster as Cinderella and Prince Fortune, Misty Copeland and Misty Copeland and Jeffrey Cirio as Princess Florine and The Bluebird, Children of the JKO School at ABT, and the Company as Lilac Fairy Attendants, Rats, Maids of Honor, Garland Waltz, Garland Waltz Children, Violin Pages, Baronesses, Duchesses, Dukes, Marchionesses, Marquises, Farandola, Nymphs, Hop-o’-my-Thumb and His Brothers, Ogre and Ogress, Mazurka, Bluebeard and Ariana, Porcelain Princesses, Mandarin, Scheherazade, Shah and his brother, Courtiers, Pages, Knitting Ladies, Guards, Nurses, and Wedding Guests.

Everyone knows this renowned fairy tale ballet, that begins with Catalabutte’s accidentally leaving the evil Fairy Carabosse off the guest list for Princess Aurora’s Christening. When Carabosse arrives in anger, she’s accompanied by dancing rats, in this production, and places a curse on Aurora that she’ll die on her sixteenth birthday, by pricking her finger on a spindle. The Lilac Fairy improves Aurora’s fate to a 100 year nap, in which the entire Kingdom will sleep as well, so her parents can join in her century-late wedding, with famous storybook characters and others invited. Toward the end of that century nap, the lonely and restless Prince Désiré sees and dances with a vision of Aurora, and the Lilac Fairy miraculously appears to bring him to meet and kiss Aurora, waking her up to marry him, which she does, with all the Fairies in attendance as well.

Once again Gillian Murphy, here cast as Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, was partnered with Cory Stearns, as Prince Désiré, as she recently was in Swan Lake. Mr. Stearns’ lack of energy, focus, dramatization, and leg extension-flexibility were again apparent, this time in The Awakening, but more prominently in The Wedding Celebration, to Mr. Stearns; advantage, as Ratmansky’s 2015 re-staged version of The Sleeping Beauty lacks the requisite fish dives and astounding pyrotechnics of past “Beauty” wedding scenes. This weighty production presents, at the end of June, wintery heavy wigs and costumes, an overly layered series of Fairy Cavaliers, Fairy Attendants, Wedding Fairies, and…look at the casting above, a totally undramatic, emotionally detached, encyclopedically formulated, and mostly mimed ballet. I still painfully miss the McKenzie/Kirkland/Chernov, 2007 production of The Sleeping Beauty, with its melodramatic and fluid “Rose Adagio” solo for Aurora, on her sixteenth birthday, and the perfumy Vision Scene, with first sight of Désiré, galloping from rear, stage right, like a thoroughbred, toward his hunting party. I still miss the simplicity of the Prince’s first pas de deux with Aurora’s vision, those Wedding Scene fish dives, the exalted rapture, and the bright, storybook set, upon which Désiré visibly kisses Aurora in The Awakening.

To elaborate, requisite in any production of The Sleeping Beauty is Princess Aurora’s stage introduction at her sixteenth birthday party, called the “Rose Adagio”, during which she dances, mostly en pointe, un-interrupted, with four Princes. The mesmerizing score is repeated and echoes throughout, until she raises both arms freely above her head, one leg en pointe, the other en air. At one point, she dances with long-stemmed roses, handing each to a Prince, without letting go of his hand, as she remains en pointe. This challenging solo is much like Swan Lake’s Act III Black Swan Pas de Deux, or Romeo and Juliet’s end of Act I, Balcony Scene. Only, in this case, it’s an endurance test for a solo ballerina, who has mastered balance, poise, gesture, stage presence, timing, etc. Last year, Mr. Ratmansky completely changed that renowned choreography, so that Aurora literally goes off-pointe, during the Adagio, walks over to a row of “Violin Pages” (new characters), then completes, in fragmented form, her Adagio, when suspense is already dissipated. Moreover, in all past Sleeping Beauty Act III Wedding Scenes, Aurora and Désiré thrill the audience with breathtaking fish dives (Aurora runs, jumps, and dives into the Prince’s arms, before photo finish images). Instead, Mr. Ratmansky has Aurora spin in place, with Désiré’s help, then she’s lifted and turned into the dive…ballet light. And, in past productions for years, we’ve experienced Ms. Murphy as Aurora in exceptional Rose Adagios and in Wedding fish dives with talented, dedicated partners.

The Ratmansky version, which is designed, it’s noted, close to the original 1890, Petipa version, is stiff, leaden, and staccato. Stella Abrera, as the Lilac Fairy, was a breath of fresh air, but, Richard Hudson’s costumes and scenery lack cohesion. There is no glittering vision, as the stage is so chock full of extraneous characters and scenic details. Craig Salstein, another breath of fresh air, was in drag as Carabosse, the Fairy who’s not invited to Aurora’s Prologue Christening. She gets even with the threat of the spindle (see synthesized plot above). Mr. Salstein, in operatic fashion, went wild with this role. He was both hilarious and terrifying. Catalabutte, who works for the Court, and drew up the list of Christening invitees, without Carabosse on the list, was a humorous Keith Roberts. King Flourestan and His Queen were finely performed, in the heaviness of Russian-winter cloth, by Victor Barbee and Alexandra Basmagy. Alas, this will be my last sight of Mr. Barbee on this stage, as he leaves the Company for new horizons. He is a master of regal, balletic maturity, always sophisticated and nuanced. The five Fairies at The Christening were lovely, although this segment was quite lengthy. Melanie Hamrick was engaging as Sincerity.

In the Rose Adagio scene, the Princes were Alexandre Hammoudi, Thomas Forster, Blaine Hoven, and Roman Zhurbin. Again, the hats and scarves and costumes were so leaden that they moved slowly. In the lackluster Vision scene, with an over-abundance of Corps (coming and going all evening in numerous, small roles), Clinton Luckett caught my eye again this year, a fine Tutor to the Prince, and Stephanie Williams was a credible, rejected Countess, tossed off by the Prince, so he could dream of his Vision. At the Wedding, four Fairies (diamond, gold, silver, sapphire) danced before the storybook characters, another long add-on. In particular, Devon Teuscher and Luciana Paris, both Soloists, were exemplary. Catherine Hurlin and Alexei Agoudine, as The White Cat and Puss-in-Boots, made the best of what is usually a more showcased duo dance. Misty Copeland and Jeffrey Cirio were an athletic Princess Florine and The Bluebird, Betsy McBride and Patrick Ogle added more camp as Red Riding Hood and The Wolf, and Courtney Lavine and Thomas Forster were regal as Cinderella and Prince Fortune. But, then, Mr. Ratmansky has also added an ensemble of seven as Hop-o’-my-Thumb and His Brothers, plus a duo, called Ogre and Ogress. And, then, Mazurkas (enormous ensemble), Bluebeard and Ariana, Porcelain Princesses, Mandarin, Scheherazade, and Shah and his brother, see cast list above. I hope, in the near future, Mr. McKenzie will return his own choreographic production of The Sleeping Beauty or at least present its Rose Adagio and/or Wedding Pas de Deux in upcoming Galas. I hope, as well, that Ms. Murphy is better matched in upcoming seasons with strong, dynamic danseurs in roles that challenge and showcase her longstanding talent, while she’s still in her prime.

Gillian Murphy in "The Sleeping Beauty
Courtesy of Gene Schiavone

Craig Salstein in "The Sleeping Beauty"
Courtesy of Gene Schiavone

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at