Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Sleeping Beauty

As part of its 60th anniversary season, the National Ballet Canada included the classic ballet, The Sleeping Beauty.  According to the always enlightning pre-ballet talk by ballet master Lindsay Fischer it is the ballet that all other classical ballet is based on because it's the only one that had the transcript saved and taken out of Russia.  No notations of the time period exist for any other ballets, so choreographers have gone back to The Sleeping Beauty as a guide book of how the originals might have been, then of course taken artistic license.

At the performance I saw Greta Hodgkinson was Aurora and a guest principal dancer with the Stuttgart Ballet, Evan McKie, was Prince Florimund.  Mr. McKie actually is from Toronto and trained at the National Ballet School.  These performances marked his first performances here as an adult.
Greta and Evan (

There were some unique quirks at the performance as well, beginning with the overture.  The orchestra started playing and continued for quite a while with no curtain raising.  In fact it seemed like they even repeated a section.  A few moments later a stage hand appeared in the pit and for the first time ever I heard a professional orchestra stop playing.  An announcement was made that there were technical difficulties and to keep our seats.  About 5 minutes later, the orchestra got the signal from the stage and started again a few phrases before the curtain up cue.  This time, it went up without a hitch.  The disappointing part was that in the final act the Pas de Cinq was cut.  I assume this was because of the extra time taken due to the difficulties at the start.  The Bluebird and Pussycats still made their appearances, but there were no Diamonds, Silver, Emerald or Gold except in costuming.  Even having never seen the ballet before, it wasn't hard to put together that the different costumes and lack of those dancers having solos didn't match the program.

Tchaikovsky's score is timeless.  The Russians really knew how to write cool clarinet music.  A sentiment which is shared by National Ballet Orchestra clarinetist Max Christie.  In a recent WholeNote article he described The Sleeping Beauty music as "terrifying.  It never lets up.  [I] have to practice for it."  As for Prokofiev and his Cinderella score, Mr. Christie calls it fun because it contains "wicked stuff for the clarinet".  That was my consensus when I saw the ballet as well.

What did surprise me was that the famous musical theme, popularized in the Disney movie where it was given lyrics (Disney version here), wasn't danced by Aurora at all, but by the Corps/Ensemble at the start of the 16th birthday scene.  The most memorable part of Act 1 is the Rose Adagio.  Danced by Aurora it contains a series of balances that take a lot of guts on the dancer's part as well as demonstrate that Aurora is growing up and being able to handle a more balanced life.  They were all well executed by Ms. Hodgkinson.  There were a few other variations that I found especially exciting as well.  One was the Fifth Fairy Variation.  It's danced with index fingers outstretched, the idea being that it represents electrodes and she is giving the gift of energy and vitality to the baby princess.  The end of the Sixth Variation features a very challenging hop and pirouette type step performed repeatedly.  This fairy is giving the princess the gift of grace; both grace in elegance and grace under pressure, since the dancer has to make it look like the dance is no challenge at all and she did an excellent job.

I also liked the Naiads number with the Corps de Ballet.  The patterns they created were very unique.
National Ballet of Canada
Now if only finding a prince was as easy as falling asleep and waiting!

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