Gillian Murphy and Alexandre Hammoudi in Alexei Ratmansky's "The Sleeping Beauty" Photo Gene Schiavone.

Gillian Murphy and Alexandre Hammoudi
in Alexei Ratmansky’s “The Sleeping Beauty”
Photo Gene Schiavone.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Opera House
Washington, DC

January 30, 2016

by Carmel Morgan

For those who prefer that classical narrative ballets strongly adhere to their roots, Alexei Ratmansky’s version of Marius Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty does not disappoint. If the scenery and costumes by Richard Hudson seem awfully old-fashioned (many of the masks and wigs border on the absurd, and some of the colors badly clash), that’s because they were inspired by Leon Bakst’s designs for Diaghilev’s 1921 London production of The Sleeping Beauty by the Ballets Russes. Of course the music remains Tchaikovsky’s famous score. Despite the whiff of mothballs (cultural stereotypes, some stilted stylistic movement), the artists of the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) collectively provide real freshness to the work. Ratmansky’s staging gives one the feeling of watching history unfold before one’s eyes. In fact, what is most striking is just how familiar everything seems. Like a well-worn favorite storybook, you’re transported to a fantasy land that is at once old and also new again.

Saturday night’s cast, including Sarah Lane as Princess Aurora, Herman Cornejo as her prince, Devon Teuscher as The Lilac Fairy, and Stella Abrera and James Whiteside as Princess Florine and The Bluebird, did an admirable job. In my view, however, it is the entire cast who deserves credit for the production’s shining success. Teuscher was a bit timid for my taste. She has wonderfully long limbs and moves elegantly, but I wanted to see more of her strength and less of her softness. Lane danced a little unevenly. At her best, Lane’s footwork was crisp, her leaps hung in the air, and she commandeered the stage with authority. Her partner, Cornejo, always makes my heart soar. He’s a perfect prince. Abrera, likewise, makes a perfect princess, but in my opinion Whiteside actually came out ahead of her in their pairing. His Bluebird got great height and moved exceedingly swiftly. Although not a flawless evening, the nymphs in ACT II were particularly fine, executing their steps in enviable unison, and the children, guided by Ballet Master Rhodie Jorgenson, added plenty of well-rehearsed charm. It may have been Nancy Raffa’s evil fairy Carabosse, however, who stole the show. She relished the role and could not have been a better villainess.

You could hold a lively debate about what’s worth keeping and worth changing in The Sleeping Beauty.  Would I have tinkered with things differently than Ratmansky? Probably. For example, the huge scary-looking black bird hovering over Princess Aurora in Act II, with its distracting red glowing eye, is something I’d have left out. And the strange parade of wedding guests in Act III could use some updating and tweaking, I think. Whatever one thinks of Ratmansky’s particular choices, his vision holds plenty of magic. It’s a production for which ABT should be extremely proud. It’s easy to imagine Ratmansky’s The Sleeping Beauty being enjoyed for many, many years to come.