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The Sleeping Beauty, American Ballet Theatre, Paris

The Sleeping Beauty, American Ballet Theatre, Paris

The Sleeping Beauty, American Ballet Theatre, Paris
September 05
17:46 2016

Cassandra Trenary as Aurora in American Ballet Theater’s production of Sleeping Beauty at the Paris Opera Bastille

There is a pleasing irony about American Ballet Theatre’s current performances of The Sleeping Beauty in Paris. Here is a company whose history only stretches back to the 1940s, bringing a historical reconstruction of one of the great 19th-century classics to the birthplace of classical ballet.

Predictably, a few sneers have ensued, but Alexei Ratmansky’s 2014 awakening of this Beauty has much to teach to the old world. Painstakingly recreated from Stepanov notation, a choreographic “score” from the early 20th century, the production is as close as we are likely to get to the work’s original form.

And it reminds us that the ballet is, first and foremost, a fairytale. The naive simplicity of this Beauty requires the suspension of our disbelief, but repays us with a renewed sense of wonder. The steps and combinations Ratmansky unearthed, danced in period style, are delightfully bright and unusual. Mime abounds and seeps into set pieces such as the wedding pas de deux, where Aurora spells out her feelings and tenderly rests her head on the Prince’s shoulder.

The production’s earnest embrace of the ballet’s class-based structure, with its happy peasants and gracious aristocrats, remains disconcerting at times. The harmony that triumphs in Act III is born of wisdom, however: unlike elsewhere, Carabosse returns to be a part of Aurora’s wedding, signalling the reconciliation of opposite forces. The result is both grand and warm, subtle and simple.

On opening night, the production appeared slightly flatter than it did in New York, and the corps de ballet less crisp. Cassandra Trenary, a young soloist, was secure and vivacious as Aurora. She will clearly be a luminous addition to ABT’s roster of stars but isn’t a finished product yet as a ballerina; she and her Prince, James Whiteside, occasionally overplayed their roles, betraying their modern selves.

Still, Ratmansky is working wonders with a company that until recently lacked unity and style in the classical repertoire. The speed and theatricality he requires are shaping dancers (notably the Prologue’s fairies) that are dynamic, musical and alive to the story onstage.

ABT would help its cause by taking a second look at some of the costumes, modelled after a 1921 Ballets Russes production: some fabrics look shoddy, and the wigs reinforce the misguided notion that this is a museum piece. Danced well, it is anything but that.

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