McCaw Hall, Seattle, Washington; February 1, 2014

Dean Speer

Leslie Rausch and Karel Cruz in "The Sleeping Beauty" Photo © Angela Sterling

Leslie Rausch and Karel Cruz in “The Sleeping Beauty”
Photo © Angela Sterling

I was spoiled from the beginning. My first “Sleeping Beauty” experience was that of Rudolf Nureyev and Veronica Tennant during their tour with the National Ballet Canada in the early ‘70s. Our ballet school went as a group, sitting in the top balcony and being suitably impressed and educated at the same time. Our teacher, Gloria Hudson, reminded us, “All of those steps and everything we see has a name.” Even one of my Sunday School teachers, Mertyl Burstow – who sat in the front row of the orchestra, reported to me later how much she enjoyed Nureyev and his feline qualities.

Pacific Northwest Ballet more than spoils and indulges us with their production of this iconic classical ballet and with Leslie Rausch and Karel Cruz as the two leads, for me it was perfection itself. At all levels it was perfect. Musical and production values – sets and costumes – are sumptuous, Ronald Hynd’s reconstruction and recreation of the original Petipa choreography recalls the glories of the Royal Ballet during his tenure there as a dancer. This entire production was purchased from the English National Ballet.

Clean and clear, each cast member – including students from the PNB School – knew what they were about and contributed as a team to this uplifting ballet.

Rausch was rock solid in every step, balance, and showed control throughout. The great Margot Fonteyn recounts how the four sets of piqué arabesque, roll down with no plié, into a fondu arabesque [done in Act I] were among the most terrifying as there’s no room for wobbling and it’s very “exposed.” Here Rausch did them with apparent ease and delight, never wavering from exuding the joy of Aurora’s 16th birthday party.

While it’s easy to adore the entire ballet, I find that for me one of the most thrilling parts is the famous Rose Adagio, well-known [infamous perhaps] for its long balances and promenades in attitude. I liked how Rausch brought her head back to the front [audience] following each turn with the four cavaliers, a detail not lost on me nor anyone who got to see Fonteyn do this very thing.

Similarly, I also appreciate, prefer, and like how she placed herself up into force-arch fondu, pulling up slowly into an attitude pose that develops quickly into an arabesque balance [nicely held] in the Act III pas de deux, also known for its ‘fish dives.’

Tall, lanky, and good-natured Cruz brought the right amount of gravitas to his role as the unsettled prince. Finding his fiancé annoying, I think he’s not only smitten but relieved to have Aurora revealed to him by the Lilac Fairy.

James Moore as the Bluebird did all 24 brisé volés [we were counting] and had quite good height and lightness throughout, convening the essence of a bird, yet being grounded and solid to hold the sustained arabesque that concludes the “Bluebird Pas de Deux.” His partner [in the story a princess pretending to be a bluebird] of Carli Samuelson was quick and light and cleanly held all of the echappé and multiple hops that go from brushing the right foot front to developing it back into a full arabesque.

Laura Tisserand, Joshua Grant, and the newly-appointed to soloist rank William Lin-Yee were truly golden in their “Gold and Silver” trio. Matched well for height as well as line, all three were in top form. I’m happy that Grant, who returned a couple of years ago from a good career in another company, has been given opportunities that he’s deserved. An outstanding and tensile dancer from the get-go, Tisserand keep getting stronger and stronger as each season progresses.

As a young student at the NBoC show – with virtually no dance-watching or performing experience under my feet, I recall getting the humor of the cat duet, ‘Puss in Boots and the White Cat,’ especially their play and, in particular, her developé a la seconde where his fingers following by “doing the walking” and her “gets your paws off!” slapping response – which gets a hearty chuckle every time. Over 40 years later, I still enjoy it and newcomer Raphaël Bouchard and Sarah Ricard Orza danced and played each moment to perfection.

Red Riding Hood, I have to admit, has had to grow on me – but I now really do appreciate the ironic humor of her attempts to fool the wolf while still getting caught by him in the end – dressed in grannie’s clothing. This audience ate it up, pun intended.

How wonderful it is that the Act III wedding party’s penultimate dance is a mazurka. While watching, I couldn’t help but think how marvelous it would be if all parties – especially mine of course – could conclude with one. If not a mazurka, then perhaps a lively czardas.

With the mighty PNB Orchestra led by Emil de Cou, our dear close friends, family, and opera singer friend [who was seeing it for the first time] returned again and again to the fabulous Tchaikovsky score and commented how these tunes and their colorful orchestration undergirded and propelled each act and made for another memorable evening. One that more than favorably compared to my first viewing decades ago.