The Sleeping Beauty
Moscow, Bolshoi Theatre
15 May 2016
The Bolshoi’s current production of the Sleeping Beauty is Yuri Grigorovich’s third; it premiered as the opening performance of the renovated Bolshoi Theatre in 2011. In the Theatre’s program notes, Grigorovich wrote of the production: “the stage will act as a continuation of… the refurbished Bolshoi Theatre… and thus, present day theatre-goers will be primed for a spectacular performance at the court of Louis XIV.” This approach is less than successful for several reasons detailed in a review of the production, by Lynette Halewood, when it appeared in London in 2013.
As noted in the Halewood review, the production’s extravagant visual presentation is impressive but lacks the warmth and charm needed to engage the audience. Magnificence supersedes enchantment. The production also neglects narrative and logic, for example, by eliminating the Lilac Fairy’s explanation of how she will overcome Carabosse’s curse on Aurora, and by having the palace’s massive cream and gold pillars remain stationary throughout the entire performance. As a result, the pillars incongruously frame both the outdoor and the vision scenes, with lighting changes being the primary means for creating the profoundly different atmosphere of the latter.
Given the overpowering and at times illogical sets, the dancers in the principal roles have the formidable task of establishing the required changes in emotional tone solely through their dancing and acting.
The choreography – predominantly Petipa – requires perfect classical technique, but the dancers also need to be able to convey a range of emotions to draw the audience into the enchantment of the private inner world of a young princess and her court. The emotional tone changes with each act and great actor/dancers in the leading roles over the past decades have established a standard that the audience has come to expect.
Maria Alexandrova – an accomplished ballerina – played the Lilac Fairy. She is greatly admired for her strong portrayals in a wide range of roles, but in this role she needed more of the requisite amalgam of classical refinement and gentle authority. Semyon Chudin danced Prince Désiré with impeccable classical lines and made his entrance in Act II with space-devouring leaps. He has a refined classical technique and possesses strong partnering skills but his performance had little impact because his dancing did not show the range of emotions the role requires – from melancholy longing to romantic rapture and regal happiness.
Olga Smirnova danced the role of Aurora. Smirnova is a dancer with impressive physical gifts: beautiful proportions, a long elegant line, a supple back and expressive arms. She has been acclaimed in both classical and contemporary roles. As expected, the technical aspect of her dancing was flawless – refined, graceful, elegant, precise – creating beautiful forms and poses but with a cool demeanor. What she appeared to lack was a deep connection to the role that would allow her to express the emotional nuances needed to convey Aurora’s transitions – from a joyful 16 year old girl, to an elusive but tender romantic vision, to a fulfilled young princess.
Smirnova was promoted to principal dancer four months ago – at the very young age of 24 – and at this performance danced Aurora for the first time since her debut in February 2014. Given her youth, it is likely that with experience her interpretation of Aurora will develop.
The Bolshoi’s soloists and the corps de ballet danced with their trademark enthusiasm. The masterful Alexey Loparevich as the vindictive Carabosse and Vitaly Biktimirov as the alternately fawning and frantic Catalabutte (Master of Ceremonies), gave strong performances that propelled the narrative.
The ballet provides ample opportunity to showcase the Bolshoi’s female soloists in the six fairy variations at Aurora’s christening and the four jewel and precious metal variations at the wedding. In general, all were danced well, but several lacked polish. One of the dancers – the up-and-coming Margarita Shrainer – stood out as Silver in Act II. (She is scheduled to dance Kitri during the Bolshoi’s summer season in London.)
The portrayals of the fairytale characters at Aurora’s wedding were uniformly excellent. Yulia Stepanova portrayed an elegant and charming Princess Florine to Artemy Belyakov’s strong and graceful Blue Bird. Stepanova trained at the Vaganova Institute and spent five years with the Mariinsky Ballet before joining the Bolshoi as a soloist in late 2015. (She is scheduled to dance Odette/Odile in Swan Lake during the London season.)
Anna Tikhomirova was simultaneously coy and flirtatious as the White Cat and Igor Tsvirko was persistent and playful as Puss in Boots, while Daria Khokhlova and Klim Efimov expressed youthful romantic love as Cinderella and her Prince. An expressive Ksenia Pchelkina was a playful Little Red Riding Hood lost in a forest of eight evergreen trees, animated to amusing effect by students from the Moscow State Academy of Choreography.
The corps de ballet danced with musicality and precision in the always enchanting garland dance and in the vision scene. Pavel Clinichev conducted – and the orchestra played – Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous score with the appropriate sensitivity and grandeur.