Like Stravinsky and Balanchine or Cunningham and Cage, Tchaikovsky and Petipa created great dance by collaborating closely on steps and score. Their partnership produced some of the classical ballet world's greatest hits, including The Nutcracker, Swan Lake
and The Sleeping Beauty. Oregon Ballet Theatre
already had the first two in its repertoire; on Saturday, the company opened its 21st season with a world premiere of the third, choreographed by artistic director Christopher Stowell after Petipa.
There is plenty to recommend in this production, not least the OBT Orchestra (led by Niel DePonte) accompanying the work live. A score this good—and this integral to the dance--deserves nothing less.
Based on Charles Perrault's fairy tale, Beauty
opens with a christening party for the princess Aurora (Yuka Iino
); fairy godmothers come bearing gifts, and everyone would have lived happily ever after except that one of the invites was lost in the mail (The New York Times
once summarized the ballet's dramatic conflict with the headline “Irate Fairy at the Door: Check the Guest List.”) The evil fairy Carabosse (Gavin Larsen
) retaliates for the snub by cursing the princess to death by spindle-prick on her 16th
birthday, but the Lilac Fairy (Alison Roper
) steps in to mitigate the spell; Aurora won't die, she'll just sleep for a century until a prince awakens her with a kiss. And so it goes. A light pre-show meal and a willing suspension of disbelief will serve you well here.
Standout opening-night performances included Iino as a lovely Aurora, maturing from lithe and girlish to elegant and surefooted over the course of the ballet
(her realization that she had been duped began with a skittish boureé across the stage and culminated with a wonderfully dramatic swoon into her parents' arms). Her Prince Florimund, Chauncey Parsons
, was a gallant partner who sailed through his arabesque and coupé jeté turns with ease. Steven Houser and Andrea Cooper brought feline grace and a bit of sass to the Puss in Boots/White Cat variation. (Casting will change during the run.)
Like most story ballets, Beauty is fraught with logistical challenges: It has complex sets and costumes. It has live music. It has dancing children. But when it works—and it does here—the payoff can be huge.
OBT's production feels grand. The costumes, from Utah's Ballet West, help set the mood: the fairies are satisfyingly sparkly; the courtiers are bewigged and brocaded. Carabosse is a vision in iridescent emerald-green, accompanied by masked, dreadlocked minions who cavort menacingly across the stage. It's a long ballet but it doesn't feel overlong, and the music, which builds and swells in all the right places, is a pleasure unto itself. OBT's addition of The Sleeping Beauty
to the rep shows that the company is willing to keep growing and challenging itself, and that is a beautiful thing.
Oregon Ballet Theatre's The Sleeping Beauty
at the Keller Auditorium, SW Third and Clay, 222-5538. 7:30 pm Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 14-16, 2 and 7:30 pm Saturday, Oct. 16. $21.70-$141.
All photos by Blaine Truitt Covert courtesy of Oregon Ballet Theatre.