“The Sleeping Beauty” may be a familiar tale but seeing it interpreted through dance turns the story into a feast for the senses and the imagination. The glorious Tchaikovsky music paired with the airy elegance of ballet create a world in which fairies seem at home and a hundred-year-long slumber becomes a perfectly believable path towards reaching one’s destiny.
Ballet San Antonio’s new production which premiered Feb.17 at the Tobin Performing Arts Center may not have reached the apex of this magical world, but it was a pleasing production nevertheless, featuring a lot of good dancing and some precious moments to remember. Choreographed by artistic director Willy Shives “after Marius Petipa” (the original 1890 creator of the ballet), the four-performance run starred different lead dancers in each show.
The Saturday afternoon cast featured principal dancer Sally Turkel as Princess Aurora and Mayim Stiller as her Prince, a good-looking couple who delighted the audience with their Act III wedding pas de deux, punctuated by very classical lifts and three modified but very effective fish dives. Audiences love those! As Aurora, Turkel was on stage a great deal of the time, excelling in rapid, confident pointework but adept at conveying the eloquence of slower legato parts, as well. And she rose to the occasion in the Rose Adagio of Act I. That’s, of course, before she fell asleep for a century and was awakened by her one true love. In the Rose Adagio, Aurora greets four other princely suitors vying for her hand and dances with each one. Not an easy piece for the ballerina, but sweet and beautiful.
But before Aurora has anything to say in this ballet, the six fairies show who they are with their dances during the prologue, which sets the tone for the story. The six ballerinas Saturday – Lydia Relle, Jenna Stamm, Sofie Bertollini, Alexa Horwath, Heather Neff and Kathleen Martin – executed their brief variations charmingly. As the good Lilac Fairy, Martin was also a worthy counterpart to the angry and vengeful Carabosse, the evil fairy who puts a curse on baby Aurora, telling her parents that at age 16, their daughter will prick her finger on a spindle and die. Clad in black and gesturing wildly, Bryony McCullough as Carabosse enlivened the proceeding every time she appeared.
As is usual in this type of ballet, the main characters are surrounded by dozens of other dancers portraying courtiers, cavaliers, villager, nymphs, a hunting party, etc., and they all contributed to various stage tableaux Saturday – including some cute little pages with fluffy white wigs – but, disappointingly, the wedding scene was rather meagerly populated. The characters from other fairy tales who make an appearance to entertain the court were fun, however, especially the Little Red Riding Hood (Mai Uesaka) and her wolf (Dan Westfield).
Before the show, a few individuals just outside the theater, handed leaflets to audience members, deploring the absence of live music to accompany live dance. We agree, so let’s hope that next year all BSA ballets will be danced with a live orchestra playing in the pit.