New York City Ballet opened its two-week Sleeping Beauty run Wednesday with a lackluster performance with little distinction and a few rough edges. Sterling Hyltin was Princess Aurora with Russell Janzen making his debut as Prince Désiré. Both score low on my WOW!!! Factor scale as they are not very expressive or dynamic. In their first pairing as leads in Sleeping Beauty, they lacked a connection and a believable bond.
Sterling’s dancing was of a workmanlike, capable quality, exhibiting caution. On the positive side, she navigated the difficult Rose Adagio with solid balances, raising her arms overhead before placing her hand back down to her Cavalier. She displayed nice command and tempo throughout the adagio. Her other solo work in Act I was mixed. On the downside was a lifeless coupé jeté en tournant en manége, with little split or lift and low penchés on a diagonal.
In addition to being a muted Prince, Russell struggled in his solos in the Grand Pas de Deux. He displayed nice double tours with a deep plié in his first solo, but ran out of gas with a weak coupé jeté en tournant en manége. His second solo continued his struggles, with a shaky diagonal of double tours to arabesque. This step is difficult, requiring a double tour in retiré, landing on one foot and extending to arabesque, requiring a quick weight shift upon landing. It is a customary step in Prince Siegfried’s second solo in Swan Lake, which the NYCB men eliminated in their version two years ago. Russell’s double tours had a stumbling quality without much control into the arabesque after only about one and a half turns in the air. He ended his solo with a wobbly double tour and pirouette. Endurance is an issue as he looked exhausted at the end of his solos.
Russell is at his best in partnering and he was solid in the Grand Pas de Deux, providing Sterling with ample support. There were several occasions in which he came to her rescue including an off kilter turn into a fish dive.
Maria Kowroski was wicked as the Fairy Carabosse, portrayed with expressive evil grace and timing. Below is a humorous video interview with Carabosse, starting at 1:05. The level of dancing for the five fairies that entertained the King and Queen at the beginning of Act I was mixed. Unity Phelan stood out as the Fairy of Courage with focused and striking pointing gestures during her solo. Erica Pereira and Daniel Ulbricht as Princess Florine and the Bluebird was one of the highlights of the evening. The White Cat and Puss in Boots divertissement is usually boring, but Taylor Stanley brought it to life with expressiveness I’ve never seen in the role, with Indiana Woodward. It is interesting that Taylor, as a Principal Dancer, is cast in the role usually done by members of the Corps.
Peter Martins’ Sleeping Beauty moves at a brisk pace, with beautiful costumes by Patricia Zipprodt. An innovative touch is a projected castle on a large background. The images show a larger and larger castle, simulating what a visitor would see walking to the large structure. I enjoy the production, which runs until February 24.