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Making `Beauty' feel so glum

July 19, 2007|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

STYLISTICALLY, Marius Petipa's 1890 ballet "The Sleeping Beauty" is the touchstone of Russian classicism. Thematically, the ballet is about the proper relationship between order and disorder -- and not, as is often thought, a simplistic (dare we say fairy tale?) notion of good triumphing over evil.

In the original scenario, the wicked fairy Carabosse, who curses the newborn Princess Aurora because the court forgot to invite her to the christening, reappears in the last act as one of the invited guests at Aurora's wedding. The court is not going to make the same mistake again. Disorder -- or evil, if one insists -- must be held in a dynamic relationship with order; it cannot be vanquished entirely.

No familiar production of the ballet dares follow that plan, but American Ballet Theatre's version of "The Sleeping Beauty," premiered at the Orange County Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, does try to deal with different, even opposing orders of reality. The results, though, are confusing and unhappy.

Choreographed after Petipa by company director Kevin McKenzie along with the great former ABT and New York City Ballet star Gelsey Kirkland and her husband, dramaturge Michael Chernov, this "Beauty" retains a significant amount of the choreography traditionally attributed to Petipa, with additions by Frederick Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan and maybe a few others. This choreography is generally confined to the supernatural world of the fairies.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday July 20, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
'The Sleeping Beauty': A review of American Ballet Theatre's "The Sleeping Beauty" in Thursday's Calendar Weekend said that Kelly Hanson designed the sets. The sets were designed by Tony Walton.

To heighten dramatic motivation, however, the production adds a busy movement style for the human realm, beefing up the role of the Prince, adding and subtracting characters, inventing and cutting episodes, excising and rearranging -- but also adding -- sections of the score.

Except for the Bluebird pas de deux, for instance, the storybook divertissements at the wedding have been cut. Meanwhile, four bounding friends of the Prince have been added, more confusing than clarifying the plot.

The big problem is that the choreographic styles are unequal in value, with Petipa, not surprisingly, taking the prize. They clash and are sometimes mixed with muddying results, as when Aurora's suitors walk through the lines of the garland dancers, an amazing breach of decorum and visual clarity.

The purest and most satisfying large-scale moment Tuesday was Petipa's Vision Scene, although it came after an invented, low-voltage dream sequence in which the Prince sees Aurora's castle.

Changes have been made since the New York premiere in June, which critics generally panned. There are no more aerial effects, but Carabosse still arrives and departs as a wonderfully streaking comet. Dancing the role, Kirkland offered an arresting example of stylistic precision and dramatic intensity that would have lifted the entire production to a memorable level had it been matched by the rest of the company. Unfortunately, it wasn't.

Still, Gillian Murphy as Aurora proved exemplary in technique, and Ethan Stiefel as Prince Desire was a model of relaxed, confident nobility. They deserved their huge ovations.

Stella Abrera was a generous if generalized Lilac Fairy. And replacing an injured Herman Cornejo, Sascha Radetsky danced the Bluebird with bounding elevation and conscientiously partnered a lovely Sarah Lane as Princes Florine. The ABT corps looked secure and unified.

Kelly Hanson's pop-up storybook scenic designs were attractive but often confining for the dancers. Willa Kim's costumes verged on the garish but included appealing blues, whites and golds for the wedding. Richard Pilbrow and Dawn Chiang designed the moody, effective lighting.

Ormsby Wilkins conducted the Pacific Symphony with style and verve. Pacific concertmaster Raymond Kobler and principal cellist Timothy Landauer played especially warm, sensitive solos.

Different casts are scheduled through Sunday.


American Ballet Theatre

Where: Segerstrom Hall, Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: 7:30 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Price: $25 to $95

Info: (714) 556-2787


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