Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal
National Arts Center
May 12, 2022
The Sleeping Beauty
With the theatre curtains still drawn, music filled the hall as the audience waited to see the artists of Les Grands Ballets perform Marcia Haydée’s The Sleeping Beauty, which premiered in 1987 with the Stuttgart Ballet. Tumultuous cymbal crashes and timpani rolls bellowed. Suddenly gentle sweeps of the harp and the sweet melancholic refrains of the oboe subdued the thunderous melodic start. The introduction to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s score – played spectacularly by the National Arts Centre Orchestra, conducted by Jean-Claude Picard – kicked off the clash of good and evil at the heart of the ballet.
Colours sparkled as the stage opened up to the festive christening of the baby Princess Aurora. Her parents, King Florestan (Andrew Gidday) and the Queen (Anne Dryburgh), gleamed in their opulent royal blue costumes, designed by Pablo Nuñez. The distinct, glorious, spring-like tones of each of the six fairies’ tutus glittered during their gift-giving solos for the Princess. With her precise and graceful footwork, Anna Ishii, in a bright apple-green tutu, stood out as the Enchanted Garden Fairy. Dressed in a shimmering canary-yellow tutu, Kiara Felder grabbed the audience’s attention with her spirited dancing as the Fairy of Songbirds.
All of a sudden, darkness descended upon the lavishly hued court. In frightening black costumes, two monsters (François Gagné and Théodore Poubeau), minions of the evil fairy Carabosse, crawled and rolled eerily on the ground. Their striking siege of the stage floor unearthed the horror lying deep in the fairy tale. Then Carabosse, magnificently played by Roddy Doble, stormed the court in a violent rage over not being invited to the christening. Doble’s robust swirling leaps emulated tornados. His high jagged grands jetés became lightning bolts. With this fierce turbulence, Carabosse cast a cruel spell on Princess Aurora that would cause her to prick her finger on a spindle and die on her sixteenth birthday.
Haydée spun a gender twist in her revision of Marius Petipa’s choreography of The Sleeping Beauty. The legendary Brazilian-born ballerina and ballet director cast a man in the part of Carabosse to give more prominence to the male dancer in the ballet.
Traditionally, the role is interpreted by a woman. Yet Haydée shaped the character in such a way that the dark witch embodied both a male and a female side. Doble appeared as a woman with long black hair and a flowing black dress synched tight at the waist. But his broad masculine chest was visible through the opaque mesh fabric covering his torso. This gender fluidity conveyed the complexity of human nature and its evil side, which escapes being pinned down.
When the Lilac Fairy, exquisitely played by Myriam Simon, gave her gift to Aurora, a spell to lessen the power of Carabosse’s curse, this waning emerged through a dramatic interplay of solos between her and the witch. With slight gestures of the face and subtle moves of the body, Doble appeared to crumble ever so slightly when confronted with the gifting of the good fairy. The Lilac Fairy’s magic offering, conveyed with scintillating beauty and a gracious countenance, softened Carabosse’s gestures and moves and hence her spell. Princess Aurora would not die on her sixteenth birthday. Instead, she would sleep for one hundred years in a slumber that could be broken only by the kiss of true love.
Rachele Buriassi as Aurora made her first appearance in the court’s spectacular celebration of her birthday in Act I. Buriassi glowed in the Rose Adagio, one of the most technically demanding choreographies in classical ballet. The adagio unfolded as a series of challenging balances that Buriassi performed through identical choreography with four princes (James Lyttle, Melih Mertel, Graeme Fuhrman and Hamilton Nieh), each pursuing Aurora’s hand in marriage. Buriassi stood on pointe and balanced on one leg as each prince delicately turned her in a circle. With virtuosity, she let go of the hand of each suitor while maintaining poised and refined ballet lines as she remained ethereally on pointe. Almost at the end of the series, her balance seemed to falter slightly as she descended to the floor just a bit too quickly. This tentative finish was swiftly overlooked as Buriassi soon dazzled the audience with a set of entrancing pirouettes. The robust and sharp entrechats of the four princes were impressive. Lyttle, as the Prince of the North, completed his with a lightness of step and a steady height that caught the eye.
Esnel Ramos’s mastery of technique shone through in Act II when he appeared as Prince Désiré a century later in the fairy tale. His powerful grand jetés during the hunt in the forest were stunning. When his Prince Désiré danced with Aurora in the Vision Scene, he excelled in his coupling of strength and polish. But Ramos’s athleticism was not paired with an equally vigorous expressiveness. He did not become the fairy tale’s love-struck prince whose passion for the phantom Aurora would provoke his spell-shattering kiss.
In the closing ravishing wedding between Aurora and Prince Désiré, the court overflowed with jubilance. Radiant golden lighting by Marc Parent, based on the design by Haydée and Nuñez, enveloped the stage. Goodness beamed triumphantly in the luminosity of the scene. Glorious sun-shaped fixtures hanging high above in the set, designed by Nuñez, radiated the victory over Carabosse’s curse. Decorative dances by iconic storybook characters feted the marriage. Highlights included André Santos, who soared with outstanding elegance and agility as Bluebird from a fairy tale by the seventeenth-century French writer and baroness Madame d’Aulnoy. Draped in a luscious velvet crimson cape, Tatiana Lerebours played up her costume wonderfully in her animated interpretation of Little Red Riding Hood, whose origins lie in European folktales from centuries ago.
The theatregoers gave the performers a standing ovation. But Carabosse was definitely the crowd-pleaser. The hall roared for Roddy Doble. At that moment, I did feel a slight pang. It seemed a shame that one of the most sensational roles in classical ballet had been taken away from a female dancer in this wondrous production.