ABT Sleeping Beauty:
Stella Abrera Celebrates 20

Stella-Abrera-Marcelo-Gomes-Sleeping-Beauty-6-30-16-2

Stella Abrera and Marcelo Gomes. Click for more photos.

Thursday’s ABT Sleeping Beauty had everything  a ballet fan could ask for. In addition to taking place right before a long 4th of July Holiday weekend, the performance had great dancing, a wonderful production, innovative choreography, and a celebration for Stella Abrera for her 20 years in the company.

Stella was marvelous in the role of Aurora with her nice long line, great port de bras, and wonderful musicality. In The Vision scene, she demonstrated beautiful flowing arms and matching head movements for emphasis. All with an effortless carriage of her upper body, perfectly matched to the soothing Tchaikovsky score. Her Rose Adagio was solid with some mid-course corrections on her balances as she took her arms overhead in fifth position before placing her hand back down to her suitor Cavalier. She added a nice touch-a nod of acknowledgment to her suitor as she lowered her hand. While some have a look of a prisoner going to the electric chair during this treacherous segment, Stella was calm during the difficult assignment that defines (and, for some, haunts) ballerinas. Her jumps were elastic, more so than I have noticed in her previous performances, particularly during a coupé jeté menége section in Act I birthday scene. It was a marvelous performance raising the obvious question of why she was not promoted to Principal Dancer years ago instead of last year at the age of 37.

Marcelo Gomes was dashing as Prince Désiré as he entered in Act II in a British red coat with Napoleon bicorne hat, confidently nailing a bullseye with his bow and arrow (I still haven’t figured out how they do it, but it is a nice trick). He had a regal, princely demeanor, easy for him given his striking features. Marcelo is a great partner, always making his ballerina stand out. As I noted in my review of his purple Rothbart in Swan Lake, he has a commanding stage presence, a certain charisma which demands attention whenever he is onstage. A perfect partner for Stella’s 20th anniversary performance. Their pas de deux was solid, with a diagonal of daring, well-timed fish dives, finished off with Stella’s nice balance in arabesque.

Stella-Abrera-Sascha-Radetsky-Sleeping-Beauty-6-30-16-2

Stella Abrera and Sascha Radetsky. Click for more photos.

Veronika Part was elegant as the Lilac Fairy. Fairies in the Prologue, Devon Teuscher, Luciana Paris, Gemma Bond, Zhong-Jing Fang, Catherine Hurlin, demonstrated beautiful musicality with nuance.

Gabe Stone Shayer showed great improvement over last year in his Bluebird solos, with nice entrechat six and a diagonal of assemblé six. Skylar Brandt matched Gabe as Princess Florine with a flowing, energetic solo. There are several interesting divertissements including the campy Ogre and Ogress (Pierce Bryant and Ilya Kolotov) and Cinderella and Prince Fortune (Gemma Bond and Sterling Baca).

Other ABT Sleeping Beauty Reviews:

Alastair Macaulay of The New York Times
Marina Harss of DanceTabs
Haglund
Ivy Lin of Poison Ivy’s Wall of Text

Ratmansky’s Sleeping Beauty

While other companies are defined by full length productions from home company choreographers (Ashton and MacMillan-Royal Ballet; Balanchine-NYCB; Grigorovich-Bolshoi) ABT has not developed any blockbuster full-lengths.

Until now.

I love Ratmanky’s Sleeping Beauty, which debuted last year. It is a grand production with spectacular costumes and sets. No expense was spared in this production, underwritten by a $2.5 million matching grant from David Koch, 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 doesn’t attempt a makeover of the popular classic, but returns to it’s Russian roots with old-style technique consistent with the original work.

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. Dance technique has evolved over the years and, like watching video of 1950s basketball players that have an aversion to jumping, employing feet on the ground set shots and crab like defensive postures, what was standard then looks strange now.

Examples:

Chaîné Turns: The most obvious difference is in chaîné turns for women. The turns are a rapid short series of turns done on pointe. However, back then, women did them on demi pointe.

Pirouettes: Currently, the typical preparation for a pirouette is from fourth position up to a retiré (passé) position with the working foot touching the knee. Back then, technique for a pirouette position was very low retiré just above the ankle, taken off from second position. Note in my video on pirouettes linked above, the Kirov’s Igor Zelensky takes off from second position, which is very unusual for a dancer today.

Low carriage of arms on turns: Dancers currently turn with arms in front of their chest. Back then, technique called for lower arms closely held, hovering around their stomach.

Low extensions for women: Currently it is common to see women push their extension, sometimes compromising technique as their extended leg brushes their head. Back then, extensions were low, generally below 90 degrees. Ratmansky gives direction to the ABT dancers that they shouldn’t let the Czar see their underwear.

Simple steps: Steps considered simple today are commonplace in the performance. For example, single supported pirouettes for women.

Petit allegro focus: Prince Désiré’s solo is filled with small beat steps (petit allegro). No grand bravura split jumps and turns common today. In the Prince’s second solo in the Grand Pas de Deux, he doesn’t do much, with simple mazurka step dominating.

Coupé Jeté Menége A recurring step in the performance is a coupe grande jete. The dancer does a complete turn on the ground, like a soutenu turn before starting the grand jete. Currently dancers start the grande jete before completing the turn.

Double Tour to the Knee: Today, many male solos end with a double tour to the knee. In two cases, Désiré’s first pas de deux solo and the first Bluebird solo, the dancer does a simple double tour landing in fifth position to end the solo in a rather abrupt manner.

I learned a lot about early ballet technique from the production.

The costumes are grand, particularly the King and Queen in the Wedding Scene. The Queen enters with a gorgeous white and gold gown with long tail (attendants need to work on not stepping on the tail). Wigs are prominent throughout; the Queen wears a tall, thin wig, probably 2-3 feet tall. Prince Désiré and Aurora wear white powdered wigs in the Grand Pas de Deux.