"The Sleeping Beauty"
American Ballet Theatre
Metropolitan Opera House
New York, NY
June 6 , 2007

by Susan Reiter
copyright © 2007 by Susan Reiter

To the select ranks of danseurs nobles born to portray princes, one can definitely add David Hallberg. When he bounded onstage, in the new introductory pre-entrance that Prince Désiré makes with his four friends in this production, he sailed through a leap with his exquisite line, and seemed to suspend in the air for a moment as he beamed at the audience. One could not doubt for a moment that a true hero had arrived, and that he was destined to restore order and balance to the story.

The pairing of Diana Vishneva and Hallberg was a much-anticipated cast among the many ABT fielded during the 11-performance run. (It turned out to be their only performance together, since she withdrew from their next one, scheduled for Saturday.) With her supply, fluid plastique and expansive yet refined approach to purely classical roles, Vishneva breathed life into this Aurora even though one sensed the was not operating at full wattage, and that she needed to relax more to deliver a truly complete performance.

She has established herself as a very contemporary ballerina, yet with her Kirov background she has clearly been bred for the classics and understands their tradition as well. Her Rose Adagio was marked by six-o’clock penchés and positions that were more hyper-extended than some would prefer, somewhat marring the decorum of the occasion. She took the diagonal of penchés, traveling along past each kneeling suitor, on flat feet (as did Veronika Part on opening night) rather than stepping into Piqué and lowering through the foot — as Gillian Murphy did so effortlessly and gloriously in her debut the previous Saturday with Ethan Stiefel. One could appreciate the bracing energy of Vishneva’s dancing while wishing she shaped her phrases more carefully. She sometimes gives the impression of flinging the movement out recklessly. There is no doubt she has a strong center, but it could be more overtly in evidence.

Her balances in the Rose Adagio were brief but secure enough to register, Disconcertingly, she barely glanced at each suitor as they partnered in turn during the final series of promenades. Instead, she kept her gaze fixed on the audience. In the Act One solo that follows, she found an eloquent connection with the music, but her pirouettes came across as under-powered.

Hallberg was great when he was actively dancing, but a bit blank during the busy pre-vision dream in which he’s constantly lifted up, carried, placed back on the floor. The first time around, the sheer stage managing of all this must be distracting. Not to mention that, for a production that claims it wants to create a less passive prince, all of this hoisting as he lies back blankly is a bit counter-productive. His fervent, enraptured solo following the Vision, just before he embarked on the Panorama voyage, was beautifully phrased, combining innate elegance with youthful eagerness.

Vishneva’s naturally soulful, evanescent quality would seem to make her ideal for the Vision Scene, but she did not quite make it completely hers on this occasion. Her expressed tended to look sullen, and she experiences some wobbly moments in her solo.

In Act Three, Vishneva appeared a bit more relaxed, conveying through her radiant openness the exultation and confidence of a true, complete love. The pas de deux was marked by harmonious beauty, even if the fish dives looked hesitant rather than triumphant, and she punctuated the coda with sparkling supported turns phrased with shimmering musicality.

Stella Abrera brought gracious authority throught as the Lilac Fairy, transcending the silly indignities the production has added to the role (such as making her initial entrance bearing a — presumably symbolic — purple schmatte). Amng the Prologue fairies Zhong-Zing Fang and Hee Seo were standouts, while Melissa Thomas was stiff and hesitant.

Clearly, ABT has been tinkering with the production along the way — and tightening a bit too, since this performance ended a good ten minutes earlier than the two previous ones I’d seen. There seems to have been some alteration in the still not exactly lucid sequence in which Carabosse ensnares the Prince in her web, and the Lilac Fairy frees him. The web seemed to have grown larger, for one thing. And this time Carabosse appeared to stab herself before she levitated into oblivion. Wisely, Cinderella’s missing slipper in Act 3 is now white rather than a distracting purple. Unfortunately, the Bluebird costume’s distracting quality has not been improved. Herman Cornejo transcended it, however, delivering a scintillating, buoyant performance. He deserves a more impressive Florine than Xiomara Reyes, with her brittle, small-scale dancing and annoyingly one-note expressions.

Volume 5, No. 23
June 11, 2007

copyright ©2007 by Susan Reiter

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