San Francisco Ballet’s “The Sleeping Beauty”
Saturday, February 24, 2006, 8PM
As a teen, the first full-length non-Balanchine story ballet I saw was The Royal Ballet’s “The Sleeping Beauty.” One of my fondest memories of this was the awe factor: the first time the fairies entered, Aurora balancing during the Rose Adagio, and later the celebratory wedding scene. Last year’s rendition by the Kirov Ballet didn’t quite hold up to my adolescent memories, but this weekend, San Francisco Ballet stood up to the challenge with its own version.
Choreographed by Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson (after Marius Petipa, of course) in 1990, this Sleeping Beauty paints more than just a pretty picture. Sure, there are attractive sets, happy corps de ballet dancers, lavish yet understated costumes and wigs, and the well-known story, but what’s more, there are also dancers with determination and spirit. Yuan Yuan Tan, Saturday’s Aurora, showed us that beauty is more than skin deep. While not completely believable as a genuine, sprightly 16 year old, Tan performed with grit and flow, with jaw dropping balances in attitude (I think I counted at least 5 seconds in there somewhere. Thank goodness for the evening’s conductor, Martin West, and his baton!) during the Rose Adagio. Later on, when she came “out of retirement” at the ripe ol’ age of 116, Tan seemed more relaxed and refined, allowing her upper body to flow more and adding a peaceful smile to her face. Maybe the 100-year nap was a good thing. Or perhaps this was her reaction to her newfound love for the ever-able Prince Desiré, portrayed by Tiit Helimets, who partnered her soundly and effortlessly throughout while displaying gorgeously centered pirouettes and fantastically light n’ fluffy (just how I like my pancakes!) beats.
With supple limbs and strength running tautly through her veins, the regal Muriel Maffre ruled the stage as the Lilac Fairy and showed that while pantomime in story ballets can sometimes be long winded, it can, if done just right, actually be beautiful to watch. Sarah Van Patten, tonight the Fairy of Generosity, has come far in the past few years, developing from a young unpretentious woman into a self-assured and commanding presence to complement her fine technique. But one of the biggest surprises of the night came from Dores Andre, a member of the corps de ballet, who made her debut as the Fairy of Serenity in Act I along with the White Cat to Matthew Stewart’s nimble Puss In Boots in Act III. Other than a slight bobble at the beginning of her initial variation, Andre danced with a quietness that had me on the edge of my seat, following her from corner to corner as she hopped, balanced, and hopped again. Just two hours later, she transformed into a slinky hip-bopping feline who could purr with the best of them.
Elizabeth Miner’s fluttering and quick-footedness as the Fairy of Playfulness and later the Sapphire Fairy brought a smile to people’s faces, and Molly Smolen was well received in the roles of the tough-as-nails Fairy of Courage and the Diamond Fairy. Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun, the Fairy of Tenderness, melted into every plié with ease, but sometimes her face told a different story. Two very different peas in a pod, Courtney Wright and Courtney Elizabeth sparkled as the Silver and Gold fairies. Wright’s dancing contained a more subtle shine, while Elizabeth glittered with more pizzazz. Katita Waldo (in for Kristin Long) and Joan Boada fluttered as the Enchanted Princess and the Blue Bird. Boada, with his smoldering good looks, seemed ready for takeoff, but Waldo looked out of place, and their partnering was shaky at best. Anita Paciotti's sinister yet gold-clad Carabosse (aka the Fairy of Darkness) creeped me out, and I can easily understand why she was “forgotten” on the guest list. Quinn Wharton was a boyish yet polished Mongolian Prince, and both Garrett Anderson and Jaime Garcia Castilla excelled playing the Cavaliers to the Jewel Fairies. One more of note was Nicole Grand as one of the Little Lilacs. Grand displayed great stage presence, always in character with a smile on and her head held high.
One nice, yet minor edit to Tomasson's "The Sleeping Beauty" is the recent removal of the 2nd intermission between Acts II and III. Yes, it's nice to have that "breather" in there, but for many families, a 3-hour ballet with young kids can be grueling.
There is a lot more to look forward to with this run, including Rachel Viselli’s debut as Aurora and several new Lilac Fairies (Elana Altman, Sarah Van Patten, and Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun). And with such a wonderful start, the momentum is sure to continue on.