Thursday, May 20, 2010

Yay! The Witch Is Gone! The New York Theatre Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty


Sitting in a great audience is a joy. I had just that pleasure when I went to the New York Theatre Ballet Saturday to see a delightful and engrossing one-hour adaptation of Sleeping Beauty. I was surrounded by little girls, perhaps the wisest beings on the planet, though it was nice to see boys and several dads. All of us were outnumbered, however, by the princesses: several Snow Whites, Ariels, and Cinderellas, all there to see the triumph of one of their sisters.

Now I have heard some deplore the deterioration of the art of mime in the major ballet companies. Oh, thou naysayers! This crowd loved mime. Diana Byar and two young dancers came onstage before the ballet to demonstrate some of the mime passages in the ballet. They got us kids to do some mime, too! Do you remember dead she is not, just sleeping, and she will wake up. Cool, huh? The kids got it; in fact, during the mime-intensive prologue, the audience was mesmerized. One little girl started a running commentary (it was not at all disturbing, I was entertained by her flow of creative ideas: “Maybe she needs us to clap to wake up, maybe the witch can learn to be kind, maybe the prince will go with the witch and she’ll be nice.” She was all about witch transformation.)

Anyway. The company tells this story beautifully. Elena Zahlman danced Aurora with a regal manner, very still and clear, and those discerning audience members around me clapped when she was very clear. They were astute watchers. Diana Byar as a glamorous Carabosse threatened convincingly, her shoulders crouched, her hands like talons. We all kept our eyes on her. The compassionate young commentator said, “The witch is here, she’s mad she wasn’t invited. Oh, yay, the witch is gone. I hope she’s not dead.”

I’ve never seen a production where the Lilac Fairy’s role was so predominant and not weighed down by the elements of a mammoth 6-D production. Even then, the scenario allowed for young dancers to do some solo turns, which did capture the children’s interest. And the “just the basics, ma’am” approach is actually helpful to remember what the story is really about! Once again the wise child behind me made an astute observation about the Lilac Fairy. After the critical moment when Aurora pricked that fateful spindle (quite rightly described by another child as “cotton candy on a stick”), the wise child said, “She’s not sad. She’s happy.” Rie Ogura, the Lilac Fairy, danced with an expressive line and lovely phrasing, a strong and most definitely happy, calming presence, and she helped the humans to happiness in a kingdom that, according to the charming scenic design, was part of a gigantic forest, the palace doors set among enormous tree roots.

On the other hand, the Prince suffered from the condensation of the story. Without any background or scenes involving his character, he remained a cipher. At least he had the sense to be wary of Carabosse’s lure. And when he finds Aurora, it is a profound moment we all waited for.

I loved their finish. When Aurora wakes up, the people in the palace wake up, too, and hold a grand masquerade party. Derek Lauer and Carmella Lauer danced Puss ‘n Boots and The White Cat with an infectious glee; they were a great hit with their clawing and pounces, not quite in time with the taped music, but it didn’t matter. The kids loved it, too, when Little Red Riding Hood (Rebecca Seow) knocked out the Wolf (Kai Monroe) with her little basket. (Those were the two young dancers featured, and they were much appreciated by the audience.) But this audience wasn’t just interested in such obvious humor. They loved the pas de deux, too, gasping with “Wow!” at every fish dive. They were right to be so gleeful. Ms. Zahlman and Kieran Stoneley were sublime. As the ballet drew to a close, and the kids started clapping in time to that old rouser, Tchaikovsky, I joined right in. I’m going to try that at ABT next month!

But they’ll have to work harder to accomplish what this company does.

Sleeping Beauty. Music by Peter Tchaikovsky; conceived and choreographed by James Sutton after Marius Petipa; costume design by Sylvia Taalsohn Nolan; set and property design by Gillian Bradshaw-Smith; lighting design by Brett Maughan. Presented by the New York Theatre Ballet. Diany Byar, Founder and Artistic Director; Christina Paolucci, Executive Director/Associate Artistic Director.

(Photo by Richard Termine)

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