Yesterday, I saw the afternoon performance of NYCB’s version of The Sleeping Beauty. I remember loving it when I saw it years ago and I still do. But I have to remind myself that it is not Petipa even though vestiges of his work still remain. Because of this, the ballet doesn’t rest easily on the company. There is too wide a gulf between their training and the classical syllabus that Petipa favored. It led to off notes in the ballet positions that annoyed me. I kept reminding myself that this work is much the same as the company’s Swan Lake. An essay rather than a completist version. However Swan Lake seems to accommodate the neo-classical style of the company more so than this ballet.
The choreography definitely highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of the company. It pointed out who was capable of classical style and who was not. It also revealed who had stage presence and who did not.
Despite being pushed far past her capabilities, Miriam Miller has yet to distinguish herself in the principal and soloist roles in which she is cast. She truly needs more time in the back of the Corps line where she can further develop her technique, strength and stage presence. In her role as the Fairy of Generosity, she was awkward and gangly with little control over her limbs. I saw a lot of jazz hands and spazzy, unballetic dancing. I can’t fault her too much for this because there were plenty of dancers onstage who seemed lost in the classical choreography. However, what is distressing is how lackluster her presence is despite her beauty. She is beautiful but that doesn’t make a great dancer. I believe this push to make her a lead dancer is hurting her development. Especially since throwing her into the deep end too early has not caused any kind of rapid growth in style. She has been in the company for a year and still is not memorable except for the fact that she seems to be a favorite of the powers behind the scenes. It is now becoming questionable why she is a favorite at all, especially since other Corps dancers are clearly more adept. The other fairies in the Christening scene, Ashley Hod, Mary Elizabeth Sell, and Meagan Mann were decent but rather colorless. The only dancer in the opening scene that showed true star status was Claire Von Enck. Her balanced petite frame, classical form and big stage presence filled the role of the Fairy of Eloquence to a T. Savannah Lowery (ETA: correction – Marika Anderson portrayed Carabosse) was capable as the Lilac Fairy but again seemed rather small in the role.
It is clear to me that Petipa classics are unforgiving of dancers not only in technique requirements but also in stage presence requirements. NYCB does not have a lot of power house personalities in their ranks and never did. Which is why when big talent did appear, they cast large shadows over the rest of the company. I do hope that the powers take note of the dancers who triumphed in this style in the same way they did for their version of La Slyphide. Claire Von Enck clearly was shown to be the genuine talent in this ballet.
I began to worry about the role of Aurora but this worry was misplaced. Sterling Hyltin was a beautiful Aurora filling the role with great classical form and lovely acting. Her Rose Adagio was light, gentle and believable as a portrait of a young woman taking her first steps into adulthood. This section was the only place I felt the NYCB orchestra played the score too quickly. I think Hyltin had the strength for long balances and presence enough to fill legato passages with lovely extensions. Her vision scene was lyrical and filled with a longing. Her prince was Chase Finlay who danced well but again was rather lost in the role. At times he was so imperturbable that he faded into the background. I wondered why he was inspired by Aurora’s vision since his face was so impassive. Still Finlay and Hyltin danced a great Grand Pas filled with nobility.
Teresa Reichlin is one of my favorites. However the choreography did not suit her. She was a bit awkward as the Diamond Fairy and seemed to fade into the rest of the dancers. I’m glad to say that the rest of the Wedding variations were great. Indiana Woodward as The White Cat and Cameron Dieck as Puss in Boots were fantastic and audience favorites. Young SAB student Alessia Riera stole the show as Little Red Riding Hood. The Court Jesters drew audience appreciation however I can’t list their names. There was a casting change and to my regret I didn’t note their names. Besides Enck, the other clear standout in the ballet was Harrison Ball as The Bluebird. I don’t think the audience realized how fantastic he was and could stand up against any dancer in one of the Classical companies. Ashley Isaacs was a lovely Princess Florine.
The NYCB orchestra was on point and gung-ho to stretch their wings to Tchaikovsky’s famous score. They played at tempo revealing the bright charm to Tchaikovsky’s themes. That charm is hidden too often when slowed down to accommodate over entitled dancing behavior.
The set design and costumes were beautiful. But it was clear that the stage was a bit too small for this sprawling ballet. Especially when it is compared to ABT’s recent, massive extravaganza. NYCB is not that large of a company even when filled out with teenage students from SAB.
This version however still has the air of Petipa. And again, I hope the company rewards the dancers who were adept at melding classical and neo-classical style with success. At this point though, asking most of the NYCB Neo-classical dancers to perform in Petipa’s greatest ballet is rather like asking soubrette sopranos to perform in Wagner’s Ring Cycle.