Scene from The Sleeping Beauty, American Ballet Theater (photo by Gene Schiavone)
One of several revelations in Jennifer Homans's beautiful book Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet was the line drawn between the classical ballet of our age with the court ballet of the French ancien régime. In Russia that continuity lasted up to a work like Marius Petipa's choreography for Tchaikovsky's music of The Sleeping Beauty. Premiered in 1890 in St. Petersburg, the ballet is set in an absolutist court like Versailles, and it even featured an appearance by a dancer costumed as Louis XIV in its Act III apothéose, a tableau pairing him with Helios, the god of the sun. After the Russian Revolution, Soviet authorities quietly removed all such glorifications of aristocracy and royalty, while still presenting Petipa's ballets to the world as "authentic" recreations of his work. Alexei Ratmansky has finally given the world something much closer to Petipa's original vision, in his new restoration of The Sleeping Beauty, made for American Ballet Theater's 75th anniversary season, which the company brought to the Kennedy Center Opera House on Wednesday evening.
Tchaikovsky, The Sleeping Beauty, Czecho-Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra (Košice), A. Mogrelia (Naxos, 1994)
Alastair Macaulay, Ratmansky’s ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ Has Premiere in California (New York Times, March 10, 2015)
---, ‘The Sleeping Beauty,’ Reawakened by American Ballet Theater (New York Times, May 31, 2015)
---, ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ Spurs American Ballet Theater to Work on the Details (New York Times, June 15, 2015)
Marina Harss, ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ Awakes to Vibrant Ballet Costumes (New York Times, May 28, 2015)
Sarah L. Kaufman, ABT’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’: Amazingly, this fairy tale becomes a love story (Washington Post, January 29, 2016)
Sadie Dingfelder, American Ballet Theatre brings a lush new ‘Sleeping Beauty’ to D.C. (Washington Post, January 28, 2016)
Joan Acocella, Ratmansky's Beauty Wakes Up (The New Yorker, June 8, 2015)
Judith Mackrell, Ratmansky's royal flush: the most authentic Sleeping Beauty I've seen (The Guardian, September 30, 2015)
Further down the cast were more delights, including the adorable Canary Fairy of Skylar Brandt in Act I, and the exquisite vertical alignment of Christine Shevchenko's Diamond Fairy in Act III, matched by the strongly unified Gold, Silver, and Sapphire trio of Brittany Degrofft, Lauren Post, and Melanie Hamrick. The comic parts of the Fairy Tale divertissement are given new humor and buzz, especially the White Cat and Puss-in-Boots of Elina Miettinen and Gabe Stone Shayer. Cassandra Trenary and Daniil Simkin were a virtuosic pair as Florine and the Bluebird, with Simkin's strength and grace causing a sensation. The corps showed exceptional unity and precision in the large numbers, especially the ballet blanc vision of Act II.
Richard Hudson's sets and costumes are a pastel Rococo blast, replete with towering wigs, broad plumed hats, boots and other foot-ware. If you have ever wondered what a ballet tutu would look like with a bustle in it, wonder no more. Ormsby Wilkins conducted a mostly good performance of the score by the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, including excellent violin and cello solos but with some misses in the horn section.
This performance repeats through January 31, in the Kennedy Center Opera House.