Well....I just saw ABT's new version of Sleeping Beauty. A production that they just paid a big chunk of cash to stage.
What did they pay for?
Judging by what I saw, a mummy of a ballet. It was so embalmed, so full of late 19th century bombast and early 20th century affectations that after the first hour, I was longingly gazing at the theater exits. Indeed,at the end, there was a mass rush to the exits even while the performers were taking their bows.
Oh, but the costumes were... interesting. So interesting that this ballet has no dancing in it. We just had staged little numbers where all the dancers paraded around to show off their fancy wear. I read in ABT's playbill that the production was closely modeled on Diaghilev's 1921 adaptation of the original Petipa production in 1890. A production that failed miserably and all its sets, costumes etc were auctioned off to pay for the bankruptcy.
And ABT's production shows why it failed.
It was too precious, too chi-chi, too impressed with itself that it carried on with an air of sepulchre formality.
The main problem was how this version clipped the wings of its female dancers not only in dance style but also due to the costume style. At the time the original ballet was choreographed, pointe shoes had nowhere near the strength of the pointe shoes of present day. This shows in the original choreography and what I had to watch in the recreation. Everyone running around on demi-pointe with a few fleeting balances on pointe. Clearly all the bravura flourishes that Ballerinas perform in the ballet today are later improvements. Without these late additions, female dancers have little to do but parade around looking pretty.
The costumes clearly did the female dancers no favors. All the dresses were long, almost knee length and looked quite heavy with tulle. They didn't seem to accommodate the dancers bodies. In fact that was why I suspect that two of the most beautiful ABT technicians, Sarah Lane and Courtney Lavine, had problems today. Lavine, saddled with a heavy purple dress in the Lilac Fairy segment (whatever there was of it), fell off pointe and stumbled out of line. There was a slight gasp from the audience. Sarah Lane, who had the same kind of awful dress in pink, fell off pointe in the last attitude balance in the Rose Adagio.
The Lilac fairy barely danced at all since she had to wear this long, sparkly number with a feather headdress that would look better in a Las Vegas dinner show.
The fairy section in the opening scene was small, none of the ethereal bourree entrances from the fairies and the attendants. A lot of little pointe balances with big smiles that seemed to say 'WOW, look at me on my toes! Yee Haaa!" Like I said before, this would have been impressive in 1890 but not today. Today it just looks downright lazy. Even though the pointe work was minimal, there was a plethora of tap dancing sounds from everyone's vestigial pointe shoes.
The choreography was just odd. The yellow fairy section looked like the dancer was having hysterical tremors. The Violente Fairy just stood in the middle of the stage, unmoving, for the first bars of her solo. As the women shuffled around in stiff tulle on demi-pointe their thunder was stolen by male dancers inexplicably added to their scene. I will say that what little Devon Teuscher was given to dance as the Lilac Fairy, she did wonderfully. It was just a shame she spent most of the ballet in high heeled shoes. The highlight of the opening scene was Nancy Raffa's Carabosse who hammed it up as the angry fairy with a curse up her sleeve.
Despite her mishap in the Rose Adagio, Sarah Lane did very well in the rest of the ballet. But again, she was inexplicably hamstrung by the choreography for females. She had few bravura steps but had a lot of demi-pointe shuffles. In fact when Herman Cornejo as her prince danced, he was not given odd choreography. He was allowed to perform all the flourishes. The audience broke out into cheers for him. My mother (I had purchased tickets as a Mother's Day gift) after watching him dance, dryly stated to me, "Oh, so there is dancing in this ballet!"
By the time the dance divertissements got started in the Wedding scene, I didn't care. I wanted to flee. Stella Abrera did wonderfully as Princess Florine. She made the most of the little pointe work she was given and even managed to make the demi-pointe shuffle look good. She was also one of the few dancers that didn't clomp around in her pointe shoes like a Budweiser Clydesdale. This small appearance also confirmed her gorgeous stage presence. She even managed to cultivate good chemistry with her Bluebird partner, Blaine Hoven. It seems men just naturally gravitate to her.
Sarah Lane and Herman Cornejo did dance wonderfully together in the Grand Pas de Deux. Since her costume wasn't so long, you could see some of Lane's lovely balletic line. I really liked how she highlighted each step, making the most of everything but not turning it all into a series of stiff poses. Cornejo again showed off super fast allegro jumps.
I just wish both of them had a real ballet to dance in not the masquerade costume ball they were given. This ballet based slavishly on Petipa's original production was too old fashioned. The costumes, with eye sore colors based on Diaghilev's questionable taste, were just awful. ABT is stuck with a real white elephant now. They have a Sleeping Beauty ballet with no ballet in it.
Labels: art, ballet, commentary, culture, reviews