Have you ever forgotten something existed until, in a single, unexpected moment, you are reminded of it in a burst of splendor? Your senses rushed and awakened, a lightning bolt of recognition blazing from top to tail, urging you to store this moment in the recesses of your heart and the interstitial space beneath your skin, begging to not be so easily forgotten a second time.
And the object of such anticipation? The Sleeping Beauty and La Bayadére, recently performed by the American Ballet Theatre at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center.
Unfortunately, the performance of The Sleeping Beauty did not live up to the splendor and opulence of its magnificent home or its memory. It was, of course, beautiful and well danced, with exquisite costumes, magnificent music and a happy ending. Call me elitist, but those are base expectations—not the stuff of which dreams are made.
Less than inspiring choreography aside, my dreamy ecstasy was in part marred by the performance of the Lilac fairy, danced by Veronika Part, who looked frightened and angry every time she took the stage. Falling over her broken boxes and losing her center during her pirouettes, neither her acting nor her interpretation of the movement exuded the confidence, calm and grace of a supernatural being charged with the protection of a princess, and a people, from evil and destruction. Her facial expressions, betraying any false confidence she might be trying to project, were distracting, and ripped me from the realm of fantasy that is the enjoyment of theatrical dance.
The saving grace of the performance, which was otherwise bland and repetitive, both choreographically and emotionally, was Irina Dvorovenko as Aurora. Energetic and sprightly, with the hint of self-aware arrogance that makes teenage girls both resplendent and frightening; Dvorovenko deftly captured the poise, grace, innocence and pertness of a young princess pleased with the attention she attracts, betraying neither modesty nor manner. In a moment of true splendor (and strength), Aurora holds audience with each of four suitors, taking each one’s hand in turn, while holding a confident attitude en relevé, never once losing her balance or poise, and finishing with a triumphant flourish—a feat that, even for non-dancers, is easily recognized as praiseworthy.
Graceful and playful, her legs fly to the sky as if on well-oiled hinges or magician’s strings. A true showman, she makes light of her work, making even the most difficult phrases look airy and easy, always dancing on the precipice of action and reaction, and inspires exhilaration.
The other true star of the show was the Bluebird, danced by Blaine Hoven. His energy was boundless, his grace uncommon for a man of his stature and his attention to detail flawless. He moved as a bird in flight, grounded only by his keen understanding of the arc of musicality and movement.
Two bright moments in an otherwise fitful sleep.
Running in late to the sound of the gong echoing off the highly vaulted ceiling, my high heels catching on the sanguine staircase below, breath caught in throat for fear of missing even a moment, I crashed into my seat just in time to experience the splendor and excitement I had missed the Friday before.
Unlike Beauty, whose metronomic cadence just barely kept the audience awake,La Bayadére was a burst of passion that woke me with a start and held my gaze throughout.
Julie Kent, whose expressiveness is a careful combination of experience, study and pure heart, could captivate an audience by standing still. Dancing Nikiya, whose choreography is often sparse in favor of simplicity and elegance, she brings as much expression to her torso, arms and countenance as most ballerinas pay to their entire bodies. She floats across the stage with the confidence and minimalism of a seasoned veteran, the essence of her character vibrating through her body and exploding out her limbs in the subtlest of gestures. Portraying a heartbroken lover, it is never quite clear if her points of falter are fleeting moments of fatigue or intentional acquiescence to the disequilibrium birthed by a lover scorned.
Ethan Stiefel, Nikiya’s Solor, complemented Kent’s grace and restraint with an exuberance, enthusiasm and singularity that, days later, still ignites that electric bolt of lighting coursing from top to tail. Like a loaded spring, Stiefel leapt and spun through the air with an ease and power reminiscent of Baryshnikov in his solo work, but seemed less able to share the spotlight—in several sequences he physically muscled Kent along, twirling her like a cat playing with a piece of yarn. The effect was no less powerful, but did indicate a certain arrogance and yearning for control on the part of our heartbroken warrior.
Gamzatti, performed by soloist Yuriko Kajiya, was technically proficient, but bland—a fitting choreographic tool for a character whose beauty and movement can never match the splendor of her betrothed husband’s true love.
The highlight of the performance was the opening of Solor’s dream sequence, featuring the slow, steady entrance of rows upon rows of arabesque-wielding ballerinas in winter white, snaking their way across the stage by the pale light of the moon. The repetition and sheer mass of dancers on stage creating a lens through which the audience can seamlessly pass from the “reality” of the plot into the warrior’s dream, where the purity of his love is unmarred by his callous decision to forsake his love. The complexity borne of such simple elegance paints a portrait of innocence and elegance, and is a fitting foil to the more intricate choreography of Solor and Nikiya.
Passion, elegance, valor, betrayal, true love and resurrection—that is the stuff of which dreams are made, whether abiding in a fitful slumber or blissfully awake to the tune of hundreds of toe-shoes ushering in another evening of fantasy, artistry and a burst of splendor.