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'Beauty' with a hollow center

The object of a certain prince's affection is none too clear as the Kirov takes on a revision of a classic.

October 07, 2005|Lewis Segal | Times Staff Writer

Midway through Marius Petipa's 1890 ballet classic, "The Sleeping Beauty," there's a pantomime passage in which the Prince sadly confesses to the Lilac Fairy that there's no one he loves -- and she shows him a vision of what he's been waiting for all his life: the enchanted, enchanting Princess Aurora.

You won't find that passage in Konstantin Sergeyev's 1952 revision of "The Sleeping Beauty," which Russia's Kirov Ballet performed Wednesday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on the opening night of a five-performance engagement. Instead, you'll see the Prince and the Lilac Fairy dancing together so long that it's reasonable to assume he's in love with her -- after which Aurora makes an anticlimactic entrance.

This small but disastrous reversal of Petipa's intentions is one of the many, many wrong decisions that the '52 version makes in trying to replace mime with dance and change "The Sleeping Beauty" into something like a classical abstraction.

Yes, Sergeyev refers to the story often enough, but the choreographic variety and emotional context of the original have been so compromised that the result seems much longer than the authentic, unabridged 1890 edition that the Kirov reconstructed six years ago.

At the pavilion, the performance starts magnificently with passionate playing of the glorious Tchaikovsky score by the company orchestra, conducted by Boris Gruzin. But unanimity significantly erodes by the time the Lilac Fairy puts everyone under her century-long sleeping spell.

The newly rebuilt sets designed by the late Simon Virsaladze take longer to disappoint, with the opening court scene offering as much palatial grandeur as you could wish. But by the time the Prince takes a very slow boat to his final confrontation with the malignant fairy Carabosse -- an event made murky and undramatic behind layers of gauze -- Virsaladze too proves unequal to the challenge.

The 1999 reconstruction has helped the Kirov warm the dancing and deepen what pantomime remains in the version on view here. This remains a great company, and this ballet was created to show what it can do. Even when the corps looks under-rehearsed, the sense of an impeccably refined style in everyone's minds and bodies reminds you of the idealized, sculptural vision that the finest classical dancing communicates.

Despite all the expressively pointless pointe-dancing that has been added to her role, Uliana Lopatkina conveyed a deeply centered spiritual authority as Wednesday's Lilac Fairy. Indeed, Igor Petrov's small-scale Carabosse -- nasty rather than evil -- became a pushover for her, so there wasn't much dramatic tension in their confrontations.

As always, Diana Vishneva found drama in the choreographic contrasts in her role, brilliantly clarifying every shift in rhythm or impetus and helping you see how each step adds to the portrait of Aurora that Petipa created -- a portrait she embellished with a sensual stretch all her own.

Her partnership with Igor Zelensky did not always go smoothly, especially in the radically cantilevered supported balances of the Vision Scene but also, fleetingly, in the last-act pas de deux. This prince looked more comfortable in his flamboyant, interpolated solos, and this princess found less effortful partners among the rose-bearing suitors of Act 1.

But Vishneva and Zelensky do match each other in majesty, and it's a quality that their younger colleagues need to learn. Certainly Anton Korsakov and Yulia Bolshakova (who replaced Daria Pavlenko) needed more of it in their promising but uneven performance of the Bluebird duet. Remarkable technique (his) and exceptional freshness (hers) are only a start.

Among the many soloists who make "The Sleeping Beauty" as much a company vehicle as a star showpiece, the standouts included Yana Serebriakova as what this version calls the Courage Fairy, Viktoria Tereshkina in the Diamond variation and Yana Selina as the White Cat. Like Vishneva, these artists add something individual to the steps and poses you've seen countless times, inviting you to reexperience a classic through their unique perceptions and talents.

As classics go, "The Sleeping Beauty" is a tricky anomaly. In structure, it's a throwback or tribute to pre-Romantic ballets in which a wisp of plot supported huge suites of formal dances. However, Petipa and Tchaikovsky took enormous care to ground each suite in human emotion -- and the centerpiece is that high-Romantic search of the Prince for his dream lover.

As the Kirov proved in 1999, Petipa could bring formal splendor and intense feeling to "The Sleeping Beauty," and Ninette de Valois also succeeded in her various shortened and reduced productions for England's Royal Ballet. But unfortunately, the 1952 Kirov staging was essentially a misguided attempt to force Petipa to conform to notions of "pure" symphonic ballet -- and what's missing is now much missed at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

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