Sir Kenneth MacMillan's production of "The Sleeping Beauty," created for American Ballet Theatre, is slightly less than 10 months old. But already many members of the New York company who danced it Friday and Saturday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center looked as if they were on automatic pilot.
Not that they've yet met all the challenges of this touchstone of Petipa classicism as filtered through MacMillan's sensibility, either in technical or dramatic terms.
The youthful, fresh-faced corps had recurring problems in neatness and accuracy, rarely sustaining a unified impulse amid Nicholas Georgiadis' marzipan decors.
And except for a small handful of principals, virtually no one seemed to have any conception of how to react to anyone else or relate movement to motivation or character. In the balance between technical proficiency and dramatic impulse, the beam dipped low on the side of facile technique.
One of the few exceptions was Martine van Hamel, who offered a luminous Aurora on Saturday night. Vitally responding to everyone around her, never making a move that didn't convey an emotional meaning, literally taking the time to smell the roses, the 42-year-old Van Hamel evoked shy, breathless, radiantly happy adolescence--and the chill of death when she pricked her finger on the spindle. Though technically she had uncharacteristically rough moments in balances and in the fish dives, it was easy--no, inevitable--to fall in love with her.
Cheryl Yeager, Friday's Aurora, danced with lightness, vivacity, precision and strength, but only sketched the outlines of character when revealing shock at a first experience of pain and yearning in her enchantment. Still, her acting showed potential.
Amanda McKerrow, the Saturday matinee Aurora, demonstrated superb technical proficiency--fluid in line and assured in remarkable cantilevered balances on point. Only startled by pain, as opposed to Van Hamel's sense of impending death, McKerrow began falling rather quickly into sleep--and so failed to break any hearts. Oddly, she was most expressive in the Vision Scene, conveying a sense of entrapment; but once she was liberated, the coolness returned.
Van Hamel's Prince Desire was Kevin McKenzie, a strong, solid dancer who created a character tired of courtly life and later endlessly adoring of his found beauty.
But it was the Prince of Julio Bocca on Friday who proved strikingly imaginative--free and spontaneous in his solo, impelled by flights of happiness in seeing Aurora. Technically, he was remarkable in elevation and steadiness in turns, despite losing a shoe in his variation. He also was one of the few company members who knew how to behave with courtly manners.
Making his first appearance as the prince, Wes Chapman at the Saturday matinee danced with lyricism and springiness but without much dramatic conviction. Chapman also danced the Gold variation with bravura Saturday night.
Neither Lilac Fairy proved ideal: Christine Dunham (on Friday) was cool, remote but strong in the face-off with Carabosse; Cynthia Anderson (at both Saturday events) offered generalized serenity and warmth, but was not really an active force.
Michael Owen, the Friday Carabosse, was tightly malevolent, oddly contained; Victor Barbee (Saturday) was fierce, arrogant, commanding.
Alessandra Ferri danced her first Diamond variation with luxuriant phrasing on Friday and at the Saturday matinee; and danced Florine with distinctive hold-and-explode attack Saturday night. Bonnie Moore was fluid as Florine on Friday and Saturday afternoon.
The company offered three fine Bluebirds: the ever-airy Johan Renvall on Friday, the springy Robert Wallace at the Saturday matinee and the bounding John Gardner on Saturday night.
Jack Everly conducted the pit band with driven tempos and some coarse results Friday and at the matinee Saturday. Charles Barker was able to capture more of Tchaikovsky's lyricism Saturday evening.