Saturday, April 12, 2008

Sleeping Beauty : ABT

A.B.T. 's Sleeping Beauty in Chicago

Main floor free seat, major American company, full-length Sleeping Beauty; Good opportunity?But I had just seen a full-length Swan Lake by a sterling Russian troupe weeks ago and the images and sensations lingered on. This was quite different.

The first thing I noticed were the absolute rigidity of pose the secondary performers adopted; not just still but statue-like; or like painted figures in a child's story book. Every minimal move clearly determined; the stage a picture; no messy life-like behavior. And so what? Isn't this a fairy tale? Even more than Swan Lake this is clearly an elite child's box of dolls come to life. 1890 was the debut in Petersburg and I'm sure the Czar's lovely daughters were among the audience, or the lovely daughters of some other aristocratic family who were living a doomed life of fantasy with terror ready to break in at any time. Tchaikovsky's ballets all have a sense of that underlying horror that lurks outside.

In this odd production, the lurkers -- the evil fairy and her bug-like minions have all the scariness required to disrupt and threaten. I came to life when they arrived. Maybe this was going to be fun after all. It was.

The bugs did their work and the sleepy head was carried off, and the cardboard figures mimed incomprehesibly and danced quite well, all said.

Really, in these overlong dramas it's just about enjoying the set pieces as they unroll; the high point for me was the entry of the male dancers and Sid Smith got it right in his Tribune review, so I'll just quote him:

The charismatic Carreno remains a sure-footed, comfortable star, a study in soft landings, clean technique and effortless control. He and the hunters, in their romp that opens Act II, take over the stage with an exhilarating rush.

There was a lot more to enjoy in this production, and the company just got better as time went by, so there were grand, gay, and sweet moments throughout. And a lot of misfires as well -- literally with a bizarre rocket blast that seemed strangely disconnected to the actual witch it was meant to transport...

I can't really say I was enlightened by the quirks of staging. I think choreography by committee is not usually successful. How does anyone interpret the switching of period costumes back and forth -- yes, I read the note that said it was the hundred-year sleep of the beauty, but it was just a device to get a different costume theme going as far as I could see...

But I am not a cranky purist, and I like attending performances that are vital and exhilarating. This A.B.T. show was energetic from start to finish. If I didn't get much of a sense of coherence in the action, and if it was more about technique than about the shadings, i enjoyed watching this first class dancing machine give us their (almost) best.

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