Beauty's Debutantes

"The Sleeping Beauty"
New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
New York, NY
January 11, 2007

by Leigh Witchel
copyright 2007, Leigh Witchel

Ballet isn’t Monopoly, but I wouldn’t object if someone proposed for it a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. Even with her lively presence, one could sense that Sterling Hyltin had the jitters in her debut as Aurora in Peter Martins’ “Sleeping Beauty”. She’s a quirky, emotional dancer who, in NYCB tradition, goes for broke, though I think that means something different in the Martins era than it did in Balanchine’s. Blessed with a good jump, Hyltin gave a charming performance with an expansive scale. Aurora is a hellish role; the ballerina enters, scarcely finds herself onstage and heads straight into the Rose Adagio for those unnerving balances. Hyltin was less certain of her balances than she needed to have been; there were times she seemed to think she was off balance when she wasn’t. Hyltin has difficult placement for the Rose Adagio, her shoulders tend to be behind her hips, but she’s figured out compensations that keep her axis straight. She made no real errors, but the nerves were understandable. Doing that role for the first time, I think she gets a free pass.

Her partner, Jonathan Stafford also made his debut as the prince, but even with two dancers new to the part Hyltin could rely on Stafford. Stafford has long limbs, but not the overbred lines of some of the other company men. His technique is sound but his claim to deserving a shot at the role is his excellent partnering. One after another, the fish dives in the Act III grand pas de deux were impeccable and went off without a moment’s worry. Stafford looks more like a statesman than a prince, and his carefully planned performance made the comparison more apt; he could do with a bit more romance. Among the princes in the Rose Adagio, Tyler Angle could do with a bit less romance; or at least with focusing more on Aurora than on being romantic.

Because the ballet is reentering the repertory after a hiatus, most of the dancers are new to their parts. All the fairies in the prologue made their debuts last week. NYCB seems to view the third fairy (Generosity here) as a strength-building exercise. Faye Arthurs has highly arched feet that add extra challenge to the walks on pointe; she rose to the task. Gwyneth Muller’s Courage (the “finger” variation) was danced too staccato in what looked like a misguided choice rather than circumstance, despite the breakneck tempos of conductor Richard Bernas, especially in all the codas.

New dancers made their debuts in both parts of the Bluebird pas de deux. Ana Sophia Scheller made an effortless debut as Florine. Her performance as Aurora at the School of American Ballet a few years back augured this; she should get a shot at the role with NYCB. Though Martins just promoted Scheller to soloist it will be interesting to see what he makes of her. She’s so clean and pure that she’s almost an anomaly here; a Petipa dancer, not a Balanchine one. Her partner Vincent Paradiso is not as powerful technically as Scheller and danced a clean performance.

Stephen Hanna was clean and appealing in the Gold variation, part of the Act III divertissements. Making her debut in the pizzicato Diamond variation, Rebecca Krohn’s lines look better in contemporary works. Martins’ choreography for Diamond, though pleasant, has always looked stylistically off the other variations – after-Balanchine thrown into after-Petipa.  Krohn’s angularity and her attack emphasize this.

In the trio for jesters, Antonio Carmena danced their leader and brought his natural elegance and line, too often neglected, to demi-caractère dancing. Alina Dronova and Seth Orza performed The White Cat divertissement deadpan, sensually, and very well. Martins’ choreography here is sophisticated; his character dances tends to be among his best work. Orza also was a solicitous cavalier to the Lilac Fairy in the prologue, inconspicuously saving her balance at the end of a tableau.

Sara Mearns made her debut as the Lilac Fairy last Friday and performed the role again here. She moved beautifully but was emotionally impassive. Her body spoke volumes in her variation in the prologue but when she mimed she didn’t manage more facial expression than a wan smile. Contrast this to Melissa Barak; who made her debut as Carabosse at the same time. She was marvelous; so vivid and larger than life that Barak seemed a foot taller than she actually is. Glamorous and malevolent, Barak looked as if she didn’t only use NYCB’s previous interpreters as models; there seemed to be a bit of Walt Disney’s Maleficent as well as The Wicked Witch of the West thrown in. If there is any justice, she’d be groomed and put on a path to becoming a Principal Character Artist. But of course, NYCB is a company that doesn’t need such things. Or does it? Now that the company is doing more and more narrative ballets for better and for worse, are they going to admit that it takes different abilities, training and coaching to dance and act them, or are they going to keep pretending that changes in repertory have no consequences?

Volume 5, No. 3
January 15, 2007

copyright ©2007 Leigh Witchel

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