writers on dancing


"Sleeping Beauty's" Riches

“The Sleeping Beauty”
Kirov Ballet
presented by Cal Performances
Zellerbach Hall
October 29, 2005

by Rita Felciano
copyright ©2005 by Rita Felciano 

After a two year hiatus, the Kirov Ballet returned with a great performance of “Sleeping Beauty” in a problematic production by Konstantin Sergeyev. First performed in 1952, the ballet’s use of who knows how many dancers recalled more an imperial richness than Soviet scarcity.

The Kirov dances magnificently—very much still the product of a single perspective no matter how modernized and athletic it has become. But too often the quality of the production—particularly sets and costumes—did not come up to the level of the dancing. The discrepancy often was almost painful.

The Production. Sergeyev’s stage pictures were sumptuous. The Garland Dance featured three sets of celebrants with arcs of flowers and potted plants and an additional one for children with flower ribbons, sixteen San Francisco Ballet students, charming with little hops and ronds de jambe a terre. Aurora was serenaded not only by six boy violinists, but an equal number of lute players whom the princess graciously acknowledged. In addition to the usual wedding divertissements, including all the jewel variations and a double set of cygnet-like quartets, this production also brought back the variation for Tom Thumb and his brothers being chased by the Ogre and his wife.  All of this amounted to a rather lengthy evening, over three and a half hours. For some it was too many riches, but I couldn’t get enough.

Design and the costumes were real issues. The Prologue’s ceremonial hall is the most successful. With tall corinthian columns and blue (Mariinsky?) walls in between, the place suggested majesty and celebration. But the chandeliers, wrong style, wrong size, looked like something bought at Home Depot. Personally, I also missed the First Act’s grand staircase. Having Aurora run in from upstage right and down just a few steps shows her as excited with a light hearted impetuousness. But the picture was incomplete. The setting is a garden party on which highly ornate gates open and close at the end.

The Second Act’s takes place in front of a cheap looking drop curtain of rust colored foliage—it matches Desire’s doublet and tights—through which you glimpse the castle. Interestingly Aurora is asleep not in a bed but on a bier in front of which Carabosse gloats. The hall for the wedding is mainly white, unobjectionable but also undistinguished.

The Soviets are known for their fright wigs but surely freshening up this production, as was apparently done, could have produced something better. The costumes were all over the place. In the hunting scene the women wore narrow riding gowns but the men court-style brocades. The wedding scenes’ courtiers were mostly in white except for one foursome inexplicably in black and gold. The women wore satiny gowns, draped and pinned to little hip pillows. Positively hideous. All this white also didn’t allow the wedding couple to stand enough in relief. Even though this is a fairy tale, it was hard to look at that king with a huge cheap cape.

The tutus, however, were large and gorgeous, the fairies’ nicely subtle except the last one’s—here called “Carefree” in bright orange. Maybe that color is supposed to enhance her assertiveness. A lovely Petipa touch, apparently, was having the Lilac Fairy don a gossamer calf-length dress in the vision scene. It made her much more “human”.

Ultimately, of course, costumes and sets didn’t matter that though one can always dream. If they just had. . ..……

The Dancing. Much has been made about the Russians’ dislike of mime. If an aside may be allowed. The best production in terms of mime that I have seen is Pacific Northwest Ballet’s by Ronald Hynd. It is rich, very detailed and so exquisitely integrated into the rest of the choreography that it textures the whole ballet. While “Sleeping Beauty” celebrates imperial continuance, it also is a fairy tale. PNB’s brings out that aspect.

Though I missed the knitting ladies, for instance, for the most part the mime may not have been subtle but it did its job. Carabosse’s hat pin instead of a spindle may make more sense to modern audiences—though several people I talked with had not seen the stiletto-like object. However, hiding it in a bouquet of flowers—after all the roses Aurora had received—was a nice ironic touch.        

Another wonderful theatrical sequence was Carabosse’s curse. With Sergeyev she steps upstage close to the cradle. As she pulls her hands apart vertically to signify Aurora’s growing up, a child Aurora appears in front of her. In Russia, apparently, the girl pops up through a trap door.

Conceptually Act II was very problematic. According to Roland Wiley, very little material exists in terms of choreographic notation so whoever tackles this ballet has to fill in holes. Sergeyev mainly left holes. It made this central act choppy and for the uninitiated difficult to read

The hunting scene was thin. There were no villagers dancing—a game of darts (in the woods?)took its place. We learn little about Desire who just seems moody. However, gratefully, the game of blind man’s buff, which can be so cruel, had a light, barely teasing touch to it.

There is no vision of Aurora. Instead when Lilac appears, she becomes the vision. Desire falls to his knees, arms stretched out adoringly. Sergeyev treated Lilac as prefiguration of Aurora, and Desire follows this dream blindly. He becomes a sleepwalker which, it must be admitted, rather nicely parallels Aurora’s waking dream appearance later on. Desire even puts his hand on Lilac’s shoulder the way a blind person uses someone as guide.

However, when the corps runs in and Aurora after them, there is no dramatic justification. Also there was no journey. at the crucial moment the stage goes dark and you have to imagine Desire’s travels Theatrically this was fatally flawed but musically not. I had never listened to the Panorama music—though it seemed to go for ever even including a violin solo—that carefully. It helped that the orchestra played so fabulously with a wonderful lush sonority through the evening.

As if he had a camera, Sergeyev gave us the rest of the act in close ups, telescoping the action into a few images separated by black outs. Desire enters the castle, he pursues and fights Carabosse, he marches in and plants that kiss. Cliff Notes of a dream becoming reality.

Frequently one reads about how seminal Margot Fonteyn’s “Sleeping Beauty” was for many dance lovers. It’s just possible that Diana Vishneva may leave that kind of residue. I don’t expect to see a better one. Though gifted with an extraordinary instrument—long tapered limbs, huge eyes and a perfect oval face—which she has trained superbly, what strikes one is the subtlety of her approach to interpretation. Every shading, every nuance is carefully yet freely realized within the story’s particular requirement.  Whether it’s the difference in the bows she bestows on her parents and her suitors, the way she descends into and places an arabesque penchee or sets her arms en couronne so that they practically lift her into air, she enchants. Every moment maybe exquisite in itself but it comes out of an understanding of Aurora’s growth throughout act one.

In the vision scene, eyes wide open, aware but not seeing she almost recalled Giselle. In the Rose Adagio the balances are not particularly highlighted—Fonteyn’s apparently were—they are simply part of a larger enchainement. I didn’t know that legs could sing and arms could listen or an attitude extending into an arabesque could exhale. Vishneva’s musical instincts are rarefied and the conductor (Boris Gruzin) was her real prince. No wonder she kissed his hand during the curtain calls. If it’s one instant where this Aurora seemed a little matter of fact was in the wedding scene. But maybe that’s what it means to be a bride.

Igor Zelensky as Desiré—such an ungrateful role—was dignified and elegant, with a still impressive ballon and beautifully placed and timed grand jetes. His set of tours en l’air came out of one mold. As a partner for Vishneva, she could not wish for a more supportive one.

A tall, rather regal Uliana Lopatkina as Lilac Fairy was very much in control whether calming the royals or opening her breast to Carabosse daring her to defy her commands. Igor Petrov’s smallish Carabosse was theatrically almost over the top. He looked like a wind up toy gone amok. What he lacked in height, Petrov made up with long quasi Grouch Marx steps buzzing around like a noxious insect. He was aided in his malfeasance by aided by dark forces, from the jungle and the night, monkeys and bats.

Of the Fairies, the first one, Kasenia Ostreykovksaya had a wonderfully lilting quality in both those wafting leg and arm movements. Yulia Kasenkova, here called the Generous Fairy, did the breadcrumb variation in which she sprinkled them but also daintily seemed to pick them up. For the wedding divertissement, Ekaterina Osmolkina danced the fast Diamond Fairy variation with crystalline purity. One of my favorite parts in the divertissements, however, comes from Tchaikovsky who gave White Cat her miaows and the Wolf his growls. 

Volume 3, No. 38
October 17, 2005
copyright ©2005 Rita Felciano



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last updated on October 17, 2005