San Francisco Ballet
The Sleeping Beauty
January 23-February 04, 2018
“..in the eye of the beholder”
The SF Ballet has opened its 2018 season with a sensational production of Tchaikovsky/Petipa work, first seen in St. Petersburg in 1890. One hundred years later in 1990, SF celebrated the centennial with its own production. Now with costumes from the Royal Danish Ballet and the cooperation of the San Francisco Opera Company, the Ballet has brought it to lavish scenic presentation, featuring sets and costumes by Danish designer Jens-Jacob Worsaae. It is an enormous work with a huge cast and complex characterizations.
Helgi Tomasson, artistic director of SF Ballet, has chosen to set the opening act in Russia of the 17th and 18th centuries. The Byzantine fashion is somewhat archaic; heavy robes, dark fabric and oriental-style crowns. Into this christening prologue come six fairies, bringing gifts, accompanied by their cavaliers. The Lilac Fairy, danced on Thursday, January 25 by Jennifer Stahl, was accompanied by Little Lilacs from the SF Ballet School. The drama enfolds, of course, when the Fairy of Darkness, dramatically and fiercely performed by Katita Waldo, attempts to bring a death curse to the child. It is averted, of course, by the Lilac Fairy and we move on to Act I, but not before we are thoroughly confronted with mime sequences of 19th century ballet. All the major figures had this well in hand.
Princess Aurora (she who will bring the dawn) celebrates her 16th birthday by being introduced to four princes. Frances Chung, the heroine of this performance, executes the famous Rose Adagio with great skill and the lovely lyricism which is her talent. The adagio demands superb balance as each rose is presented and the ballerina stands without support in an arabesque position. The party is obviously the celebration of a young girl’s coming of age: the Garland Dance by the corps and school youngsters fills the stage with color and charm. Of course, the Fairy of Darkness completes her spindle-pricking curse and Aurora swoons to sleep.
Act II seems to be another version of the famous “Swan Lake,” but this time the designated prince, charmingly and valiantly danced by Vitor Luiz, is shown a vision of the sleeping princess by the Lilac Fairy doing her job.
She is accompanied now by Nymphs (we have seen some before in the Garland Dance) who create the magic as costumes are changed and Aurora appears as she who will fulfill Prince Desiré’s vision. Act II is elegant, valiant and very characteristic of Petipa’s 19th century work.
Finally Act III, the Wedding, one hundred years later, brings a different stage quality, more influenced by European styles and costumes. The court dance, the Polonaise, is lively, costumes are lighter and dance movement expansive. Now, as in other story ballets, we get entertainment by the White Cat, (Wanting Zhao), Puss in Boots (Sean Orza), the enchanted princess (Julia Rowe), and the splendid Bluebird (Hansuke Yamamoto). More fairies accompany the ceremonies. This reviewer was especially impressed by the skill of Lauren Parrott as the Gold Fairy and Norika Matsuyama as the Silver Fairy. Their footwork and variations stood out from the rest, though all made their mark.
Finally the Grand Pas De Deux by Aurora and Desiré complete the ballet.
Frances Chung is a miracle of placement, dramatic projection and lyrical movement. Her every hand gesture completes the line of her balances and turns. Luiz was expansive and dramatic and royal, but Chung elegantly portrayed the Princess of desire.
The orchestra, conducted by Ming Luke, also maintained grace throughout.
Joanna G. Harris
The Garland Dance (Act I)
The Lilac Fairy(Jennifer Stahl) and her entourage.