Pennyslvania Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty casts its spell

by Lewis J Whittington for The Dance Journal | photo credit Alexander Iziliaev

Pennsylvania Ballet’s season opener “The Sleeping Beauty” has been restaged by artistic director Angel Corella with tweaks and variations to the original choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov.  It is packed with pristine Franco-Russian classicism and even more than Corella’s previous full-length storybook ballets, it requires sustained technical artistry for the principals, soloists and especially the corps de ballet dancers. The beefed up cast includes company apprentices and members of Pennsylvania Ballet II.  And Corella is ambitiously rotating six lead casts, a good way to keep everyone sharp and give dancers a chance to show their versatility performing different roles during the ten-day run.

Principal dancers Oksana Maslova and Sterling Baca led the opening night cast as Princess Aurora and Prince Desiré on Oct. 12.  But before they even appear, many of soloists and corps dancers dominate the long ceremonial Prologue which sets the story in motion, as the King and Queen welcome their guests in celebration of their daughter Aurora’s Christening.  All is beautiful until the evil fairy Caraboose, crashes the party, furious that she wasn’t invited. She rides in on her creepy carriage and her quartet of minions in tow, who tumble and barrel roll around her, as she proceeds to put a curse on the infant Aurora.

Act I brings us to Aurora’s sixteenth birthday ball as she is being lavished with presents and attention by courtiers and guests.  She accepts roses from courtiers, but when she takes a spindle from a mysterious figure, and promptly pricks her finger on it and swoons and tries to shake it off as she frantically pirouettes around the stage before collapsing into a permanent sleep.  Act II takes us into that magical forest where The Lilac Fairy conjures the specter of Aurora she dances with Prince Desiré.  The Prince then goes to Aurora and breaks the spell forever with his kiss.  Caraboose is banished and the lovers are wed, so the ballet dancing can resume in earnest.

Even during the prologue there is a fireworks display of pointe work solos performed by So Jun Shin, Mayra Pineiro, Alexandra Hughes, Yuka Iseda and Ana Calderon, as the Christening fairies bestowing their blessings. Later, the corps de ballet women looked a bit scrambled in some transitional steps, but soon enough projected ensemble energy and uniform sharpness. The mens’ corps look particularly strong in this performance as they executed a series of unison double tours and entrechats with precision and amplitude. The entire corps de ballet is particularly sharp and flowing during Petipa’s intricate Garland Dance, making it more than a folkloric pageant.

The difficult Rose Adagio scene always carries high tension as each courtier presents Aurora with a rose as he takes her hand, releasing hand as she momentarily raises over her head as she holds her arabesque en pointe.  Even with a precarious balance tremor or two, Maslova commands with luminous artistry throughout the performance.   Baca is the epitome of princely deportment also with momentary askew landing in the saute de basque variation, that he instantly makes up for with his fleet double tours en l’air or air-slicing jetes. As partners Maslova and Baca’s chemistry builds with every pas de deux, and topped off as they thrill with three perfectly nailed ‘poisson dives.’

The Act Three divertissements also delighted with its glittering character dancing.  Jermel Johnson led things off as Gold, and seemed atypically underpowered in his solo, but when joined by Calderon, Alexandra Heier and Mayara Lopes, this quartet captivated. Iseda and Aleksey Babayev are the dynamic duet for the Bluebird dance.  Babayev, one of the newest Pennsylvania Ballet soloists, impressed with hang time on his jumps. Russell Ducker and Marria Cosentin-Chapin performed the Puss ‘n Boots and White Cat duet, clawing and flirting with each other in a heated feline tango.

New principal Dayesi Torriente, is luminous and steely as the Lilac Fairy, she makes you belief that she can outwit Caraboose with magic of her own.  As Carabosse, Samantha Dunster (the company’s assistant artistic director) drew lusty hisses for the audience when she took a bow, that’s how good she is.

The production’s sets and costumes, designed by David Walker, are on loan from Boston Ballet and look spectacular in the Academy of Music. The lush palace interiors, mystical forest, as well as the bejeweled tutus and fantasy couture keep giving during the near three-hour ballet.

Tchaikovsky’s music is on heavy on Pennsylvania Ballet’s playlist, with Nutcracker, Swan Lake and Jewels (‘Diamonds’) to follow in their season line-up.  Pennsylvania Ballet orchestra and conductor Beatrice Jona Affron conjures Sleeping Beauty’s full grandeur without sacrificing detail to its surface lushness. Among the many standout performances include Luigi Mazzocchi’s virtuosic violin solo that accompanies Maslova’s forest dance and Mindy Cutcher’s flawless performance of the cascading harp lines at key moments in the ballet.

Performances continue through Oct. 22, check

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