Pennsylvania Ballet: The Sleeping Beauty
Academy of Music
Sunday, October 15, 2017 at 2:00pm
Sigrid Payne DaVeiga
Pennsylvania Ballet’s sumptuous production of The Sleeping Beauty created the most scintillating stir on the Avenue of the Arts this Sunday afternoon as a crowd gathered outside the Academy of Music by the beautiful lavender-hued poster of Oksana Maslova as Sleeping Beauty and Sterling Baca as her Prince. A line of parents and children formed to take photographs there, reminiscent of the line that forms on weekends near the famous Rocky Statue, a timeless Philadelphia landmark.
As the excited all-ages crowd settled into their seats, the familiar sounds of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty Overture began, played in precise and resonant splendor by the Orchestra of Pennsylvania Ballet, conducted by Beatrice Jona Affron. The audience gasped in awe as the curtain opened on the enormous, elaborate, and regal set of Princess Aurora’s castle on the day of her christening. The set of the interior castle with its gorgeous pillars and drapes culminated in the most exquisite baby bassinette, fit for a princess. David Walker did not miss a single precious detail in his work from start to finish on scenic and costume design for this lush production. While inherently beautiful and delighting so many senses, the Prologue to The Sleeping Beauty was a lovely introduction to the performance, but eventually felt like it was the first rendition of Act III.
The gorgeous costumes of the court and fairies were perfect in every aspect. The Fairies were so delightful and the appearance by even the young members of the Students of The School of Pennsylvania Ballet as Fairy and Court Pages was utterly charming. Marria Cosentino-Chapin performed a pretty variation as the Fairy of Purity if not for a few moments when she struggled to shift from arabesque en tendu to an elevated seconde en l’air. Nayara Lopes garnered much applause as the joyful Fairy of Vitality. Misa Kasamatsu was so delicate as the Fairy of Generosity. She had a lovely series of sautes en pointe culminating in gorgeous arabesques en pointe. Yuka Iseda was a highlight as the Fairy of Eloquence with her pretty flitting fingertips and flurry of footwork. Within her petite frame, her captivating smile and her hummingbird-like prowess, she filled the stage and was a joy to behold. Therese Davis starred as the Fairy of Passion. Her variation was pleasant yet slightly awkward in her delivery of the various pas de chats and sautes en pointe. Alexandra Hughes was a lovely Lilac Fairy. She danced with control and ownership of her role with smooth lines, port de bras, and footwork. Hughes is a beautiful and controlled dancer with mastery of her technique; the audience’s only lack in watching her is her facial expression in relaying her story.
Marjorie Feiring was a beguiling Carabosse who entered the christening on her creature-drawn carriage. Carabosse’s Creatures, danced by Cato Berry, Tanner Bleck, Taro Kurachi, and Ashton Roxander, were the perfect mix of theatrics and interesting dance technique as they clawed their way around Carabosse to help her cast her wicked spell. Feiring’s villainess was the perfect intrigue for the young children in the crowd today who delighted at the crack of thunder as her coach departed into the wings.
Act I, The Celebration, began with the most exquisite corps work in the Garland Dance where twelve couples dance in perfect formation. An idyllic moment was captured in the pinwheel formations while the female dancers held their arches of beautiful flowers overhead. This Act was the first moment when the audience laid eyes on the fairy tale beauty, Princess Aurora, danced by Lillian DiPiazza. DiPiazza entered the gorgeous set of the outdoor royal garden with a delicate overture and embodied every aspect of the perfect princess the young dancers were here to see today.
DiPiazza’s extensions and technique were magnificent to behold, and even in the moment when she seemed unable to balance her attitude en pointe she was so endearing towards her suitors as they held her hand that the movement seemed intentional. The role of Aurora suited DiPiazza so well with her beautiful visage and perfect dancing, as if this was the role she always dreamed of playing as a young girl, creating the same image in herself for all of the young dancers watching her today. James Ihde, Aleksey Babeyev, Jack Thomas, and Austin Eyler performed as the princes vying for Aurora’s hand and were an excellent group of suitors in their partnering technique.
After a second intermission, Act II, The Hunt and The Vision, began. This was the first time the audience was introduced to Prince Desire, danced by Ian Hussey, this afternoon. The costumes for the hunting party were really exquisite with lush jackets, dresses, and hats for everyone in the corps and among the Hunting Party. Ian Hussey’s entrance was met by gasps from the audience as he removed his impressive hunting jacket after a series of fast-paced jetes around the stage, to reveal a jeweled and regal costume, fit for a prince. His portrayal of Prince Desire was strong, peaceful, and very pleasing to watch. His technique was precise, and he never demonstrated a misstep.
The Lilac Fairy re-enters this Act to introduce the Prince to the vision of Sleeping Beauty. The special effects were so well done that when the audience saw the vision of DiPiazza in the break through the trees, she really did seem almost a dream and not the real Sleeping Beauty. There was a subtle change in her facial expression from her bright smile in Act I to a more still and somber countenance while she danced. She and Hussey danced a beautiful pas de deux, weaving in and out amongst the cast of eighteen nymphs dressed in gorgeous green and gold costumes perfectly matched to the glistening trees in this enchanted fairy garden. The choreographed separation and re-unification of Aurora and Desire around the nymphs was a delightfully intentional manipulation foreshadowing their struggle towards a future together.
The theatrical moment when Hughes as the Lilac Fairy and Hussey as Prince Desire climb aboard the magical craft at the back of the stage with its iridescent sail covered with a sparkling lilac moon and stars truly delivered the audience to a magical place as the ship sailed across the stage. Act II culminated in the moment when Prince Desire finds Aurora and kisses her bringing her truly back to life. The audience was thrilled by this magic.
While the Prologue and Acts I and II were lovely and magical, the extended Pause between Act II and III felt extraordinarily long as the young and old members of the audience alike began to grow restless in their seats. Act III brought the audience back to Aurora’s castle for the wedding festivities. DiPiazza and Hussey danced an extended and beautiful pas de deux that was a series of enchanting lifts and extensions. I heard one little girl in the audience near me shout, “How does she do that?” in awe as Hussey lifted DiPiazza and her arabesque lifted high in the air as her face almost touched the ground.
The variations in Act III were a nice departure from the lengthy sections of corps work. Jermel Johnson danced as Gold with Holly Lynn Fusco as Silver. Johnson demonstrated his typically high level of athletic force coupled with his austere grace. Fusco’s port de bras was delicate and her stage presence was pleasurable. Yuka Iseda, Misa Kasamatsu, and Jacqueline Callahan were a wonderful trio as the Precious Stones. The trio was impeccable in their unison with tight footwork and their happiness on stage and demonstrated themselves to be true jewels among the precious stones of Pennsylvania Ballet’s dancers.
Marria Cosentino-Chapin and Russell Ducker danced as the White Cat and Puss ‘n Boots, and were a welcome relief to the audience here as the young children giggled in delight at their playful banter. Cosentino-Chapin’s coy flirtation with her partner was mirthful and happy. Her delivery of the choreography was sinewy and just perfect as she snapped her little kitten paws at Ducker as he batted at her high extension.
An absolute highlight of today’s production were the variations of Princess Florine and The Bluebird danced by Nayara Lopes and Albert Gordon. These dancers erupted into a masterfully explosive ambush of delight to the senses for the entire audience. Their costumes were the most spectacularly electric blue covered with luxurious feathers so the eye could not escape them. Lopes’ bright energy and immaculate series of pointe work with extensions and sautes were truly impressive, carrying the audience to an ethereal height as her joy filled the stage. Gordon’s strength as a dancer was unmatched here today. His jumps were flawless and filled the entire stage in every direction, landing every single time in a photo perfect finish. These two dancers were a perfect match for one another, and beyond every perfect detail of sets, costume, music, and choreography of today’s production, these two dancers in and of themselves are reason to come back again to see Pennsylvania Ballet this season. Kathryn Manger and James Ihde closed the series of variations with a coquettish and sweet presentation as Red Riding Hood and the Wolf.
All in all, The Sleeping Beauty was a decadent production by Pennsylvania Ballet for an audience of all ages. There were some notably high points in today’s production, and the nearly three hour length program was perhaps a bit too long for the younger members of the audience. The dancing was exceptional, though, and the superb costumes and sets transported the audience to an enchanted and magical world entirely, which is reason for any audience to head to the ballet and line up for a photo with an emblem of the fairy-tale and stick out the show to the very end.