So you think ballet is boring. Or maybe you’re a ballet fan but would rather see something “new” and “innovative” instead of one of the old classic standards. Perhaps you just feel like the story of Aurora and her prince is passe. Do yourself a favor and let Ballet Theatre of Maryland change your mind with their original production of Sleeping Beauty. This version, restaged by Dianna Cuatto (BTM’s Artistic Director) after original 1890 choreography by Marius Petipa, is a creative blend of classic Petipa and new choreography by Cuatto herself. The famous score by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky is timeless. Here you will find characters that are three dimensional, a plot with lots of action, and most importantly, dancing that is fresh while still remaining true to traditional ballet technique.
The performance begins at the christening of Princess Aurora. Led by the King’s Chief Minister and Master of Ceremonies (Gustavo Pacheco) and the Chief Minister’s Attendant (Heidi Erickson), the Ladies and Men of the Court joyfully dance in celebration. They flow seamlessly through formations and their many lifts look effortless.
Alden Taylor and Lynne Bellinger are the regal and technically proficient King Henry and Queen Margaret. It must be noted that Bellinger’s feet are particularly gorgeous (a compliment that admittedly sounds odd to nondancers). Before long the fairies arrive to bestow gifts upon the baby princess. The Topaz Fairy (Emily Brennan), Emerald Fairy (Elizabeth Fittro), Sapphire Fairy (Jillian Conjura), Diamond Fairy (Eve Holmes), and Amethyst Fairy (Gaia Rappaport) are accompanied by six members of the Amethyst Fairy’s entourage. This section contains Petipa’s original choreography, including the Amethyst Fairy’s classic variation, complete with Rappaport’s sky-high extensions. As expected, the Evil Fairy Carabosse (Alyssa Johnson-Taylor) crashes the party and curses the princess. The Prologue concludes with a scene in which young student dancers get to show off their technique playing Pages and we are treated to some playful dancing Peasants.
Act One takes place on Princess Aurora’s 16th birthday and begins with ballerinas, flower garlands, and some impressive grande jetes. (The audience will recognize the iconic music that is also found in the Disney movie.) Nicole Kelsch dances the teenage Princess Aurora Rose in a beautiful white tutu adorned with red roses. Her youthful energy, graceful arms, and strong pointe work make up for the occasional flubbed attitude balance or disappointingly low extension. More of Petipa’s classic choreography is found during the Rose Adagio, when the Princess dances with her royal suitors. Of course, Carabosse makes another appearance, Aurora pricks her finger, and the kingdom falls asleep.
Act Two introduces Prince Edward (Alexander Collen) who is out hunting with his court. The Amethyst Fairy appears and shows him a vision of Princess Aurora in a haunting and ethereal scene that is lovely against the lush forest backdrop. Armed and aided by the Fairies, Prince Edward battles his way through Carabosse’s minions, dancers dressed as thorns, and lastly a dragon. The partner work that forms the fighting is fun to watch, especially as the fairies in their frilly, glittery tutus join the fray. Finally the Prince kisses the Princess and breaks the spell.
Act Three finds the kingdom celebrating the wedding of Princess Aurora and Prince Edward. This act is jampacked with a varied selection of dancing. Some dance a Polonaise/Mazurka number that, while still ballet, appropriately contains heavy character dance influences. The Fairies are back and the Amethyst Fairy dances one of her famous variations that again shows off Rappaport’s talent for turns and extensions.
Heidi Erickson and Diego Sosa perform the famous Bluebird pas de deux. There is even a group of adorable Flower Girls who appear to be students. The main event is naturally the Grand Wedding Pas de Deux which is lovingly danced by the happy couple. A stately finale brings this stunning ballet to a close.
One of the standouts of the performance, both characterwise and dancewise, is Carabosse, the Evil Fairy, danced by Alyssa Johnson-Taylor. Her dramatic entrance is preceded by menacing masked minions, whose modern-esque choreography alludes that something out of the ordinary is to come. In contrast to the elegant classic style that makes up the rest of the show, Carabosse brings contemporary ballet to the stage. She strides around on pointe with deliberately turned in legs and makes sharp, angular shapes with her arms, while gleefully laughing at the chaos her arrival brings to the refined festivities. Johnson-Taylor’s tall stature adds to the effect of being larger than life and a force to be reckoned with.
The audience’s eye is also repeatedly drawn to Jillian Cyr, who appears throughout the show in various roles, but most notably as Princess Anne, the Prince’s first potential love interest. As Princess Anne, Cyr is haughty, self-assured, and flirtatious. She not only has the male characters wrapped around her finger, but the audience as well. Whether dancing solo or in a group, Cyr’s expressive face and skillful technique are compelling.
In traditional productions of the ballet you’ll find the Lilac Fairy. Her solos in Acts 1 and 3 are some of the most recognizable ballet variations in the dance world and is usually portrayed as all sweetness and light. In BTM’s version, Gaia Rappaport is all of that and much more. Here called the Amethyst Fairy, Rappaport drives the action, fights the villains, guides the prince, and does it all with effortless grace and impeccable musicality. The Amethyst Fairy may daintily bourree with the best of them, but she also wields incredible power that makes evil shrink before her steely glare and it’s great fun to watch Rappaport embody both sides of the character.
The scenery is elegant in its simplicity. Calder Taylor, Aaron Bauer, and Susan Johnson created a setting that lets the dancing tell the story, except for a few aptly chosen moments that heighten the drama with scrims and the entrance of additional backdrops. Stacie Johnson-Leske’s lighting design also is appropriately subtle with a few choice instances of spectacle. The warm, gradual sunrise moments after the Prince awakens Aurora is especially impressive.
Costumes are by Alyssa Johnson-Taylor, Susan Johnson, Megan Gordon-Hall, Gail Deutch, and Jo Anne Holmes. The overall color palette and design is fairy-tale perfection.
Although this ballet is lengthy, it never drags. It is instead a whirlwind of color, humor, magic, love, and, of course, exquisite dancing.
Bring your son or daughter to Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s Sleeping Beauty this weekend and give them the opportunity that was given to those on the stage: the chance to fall in love with ballet.
Running Time: Three hours and 30 minutes, with two 15-minute intermissions.
Sleeping Beauty plays through February 21, 2016 at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts – 801 Chase Street, in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410)280-5640, or purchase them online.