Alexei Ratmansky’s Sleeping Beauty is like watching footage from a 1950s basketball game. The game then somewhat resembles today’s game, but the viewer has many “What are they doing?” moments such as set shots, hook shots, and underhand free throws. American Ballet Theatre’s Sleeping Beauty is a grand production with spectacular costumes and sets. No expense was spared in this production, with sets and costumes by Tony-award winning designer Richard Hudson, prominent for design work in The Lion King. However, what sets this production apart is that Ratmansky does not attempt a makeover of the popular classic, but returns to its Russian roots.
Ratmansky’s inspiration is Serge Diaghilev’s 1921 staging of the Imperial Russian Theatre’s Sleeping Beauty, first choreographed in 1890 by Marius Petipa to the music of Tchaikovsky. Ratmansky made heavy use of notations housed in the Harvard Theatre Collection from Nicolas Sergeyev, who restaged Petipa’s choreography for Diaghilev.
Ratmansky’s story is not only true to the original, but also the style of dancing from the 1920s. In Ratmansky’s version, dancers replicate the technique of the era. I noted many differences in modern and 1800s technique in my review of the premier in 2015 such as chaîné turns on half toe and no extensions above 90 degrees for the women and low carriage of the arms with low retiré position on turns. The storyline is the same as a modern New York City Ballet or Royal Ballet production, but those craving razzle-dazzle will be disappointed by the ABT version. Désiré’s Act III second solo in the pas de deux is filled with simple and boring mazurka steps. Another change this year as noted on Ratmansky’s Facebook page below is the traditional fish dives. This segment starts with Aurora in an arabesque supported by the Prince in a lunge position; Aurora does two en dedans turns and Désiré grabs her by the waist and takes her over his hip into a contorted position. Some view this as a highlight of the pas de deux. As noted by Ratmansky, he recently found the original Petipa steps in Pavel Gerdt drawings stored in the Bolshoi Museum. The photo below is the pose that replaces the fish dive. I missed the fish dives. Although it seems that the pose below is consistent with the Petipa original, it is boring and unattractive.
It is challenging to evaluate dancers in the Ratmansky version as many of the steps are nonstandard, with some fairly simple solos. With that in mind, here goes on the Wednesday evening performance:
Overall, it was a strong performance from the leads (Hee Seo and Aran Bell) and supporting cast. Hee presented a sturdy Rose Adagio, raising her arms to fifth position (overhead) on each of the balances, pausing each time. Her balances were strong, with little wavering or weight checks. Hee’s solos in the Act III pas de deux were light and airy, particularly her sissones. Aran has been a workhorse this week as he took James Whiteside’s slots as he, like Misty in Swan Lake, was out with the flu. Aran is the big story of the season with another strong performance to add to his Swan Lake and Le Corsaire collection. Aran was a regal prince, with a haughty demeanor. His solos were clean, with articulated beats and light jumps to the rapid music.
Devon Teuscher was solid in the Lilac Fairy, handling the “flick-flack” arabesque turns to double pirouettes with robust technique. Christine Shevchenko was lovely as the Diamond Fairy moving with great speed. Skylar Brandt and Gabe Stone Shayer danced the Bluebird Pas de Deux. The male solo is stripped down of some of the modern day elements with the first solo consisting of a series of side jetés. Many male solos have an ending of a double tour or pirouettes to the knee. Back in the 1800s, male dancers did not end solos on their knee but instead just ended the solo standing up. It was odd to see Gabe and Aran end with a double tour, then straighten their legs standing up as if to say “That’s all folks!” Skylar violated the Ratmansky rule of no extensions past 90 degrees, but nobody seemed to mind as she was in control throughout her flowing solo work.