Ashley Bouder stars in NYCB's "Sleeping Beauty"

"The Sleeping Beauty"
New York City Ballet
New York State Theater
New York, NY
January 9, 2007

by Gay Morris
copyright 2007, Gay Morris

European men, including George Balanchine, used to admire what they considered American girls’ forthrightness of character, their athleticism, and sense of freedom. In those terms, Ashley Bouder danced the role of Princess Aurora as a model American in New York City Ballet’s Tuesday performance of  “The Sleeping Beauty.” She made her entrance without the slightest sign of shyness. This was her sixteenth birthday party and she was as happy to be there as any girl might be. She looked around eagerly, engaged with everyone. She did not greet her four suitors with lowered eyes, as many interpreters do, but looked at them with interest, and then danced the Rose Adagio as if curious to know each of them. As for athleticism, Bouder has always had that. It showed not only in a confident performance of the infamous balances in the Rose Adagio, but in a moment when one of those balances wasn’t quite right. As she released her partner’s hand she was not perfectly positioned, but instead of taking his hand again to steady herself,  she made an adjustment with a small, unsupported jump on pointe. She then continued as if nothing unusual had happened. She followed the adagio with a lightning fast solo that reinforced the strong impression she made in the adagio.

In the Vision scene where the Lilac Fairy shows Prince Desiré a vision of his future bride, Bouder, if not exactly disembodied, was properly serious and yearning. She also danced her solo in this scene with more detail than most of the New York City Ballet dancers managed, in part because she took her time about it and so was able to add nuance to the steps.

The last act wedding pas de deux was more problematic. Benjamin Millepied was a handsome Prince Desiré and he danced his solo with customary precision. But he nearly dropped Bouder in one of the fish dives of the pas de deux and the experience seemed to shake her. She never fully recovered her confidence after that moment. It was perhaps here that Bouder showed her youthfulness. She has only been in the company since 2000 and was made a principal just last year. Few roles are as demanding as evening long classical ones, and Bouder might be forgiven a little nervousness after a mishap.

As for the rest of the cast, the female soloists in particular suffered from musical tempos that were set at a speed more appropriate for the racetrack at Saratoga Springs than the stage of the State Theater. What could director Peter Martins be thinking? Watch the 1991 video of the Royal Ballet’s Anthony Dowell production of "The Sleeping Beauty," and each of the Christening scene fairy dances is individualized. Each has a character that is expressed not just through tempo and footwork, but through the arms and head. The City Ballet dancers who appeared in the fairy variations  (Ashley Laracey, Ana Sophia Scheller, Faye Arthurs, Alina Dronova and Gwyneth Muller) hadn’t a hope of doing anything but getting through the steps, with arms flying about like sheets in the wind. These are beautiful dances, as are the Jewel variations of the last act, and not to fully develop them is unfair to dancers and audience.

At least in his rush to streamline "The Sleeping Beauty," into two acts Martins’ has not cut all the mime. Ballet mime may seem like an arcane and antiquated element, but it has a rhythm and eloquence of its own that contributes to a totality of the classical ballet. The Lilac Fairy, who guides the majority of the ballet’s action,  must not only be able to dance well, she also carries a heavy burden of mime. Amanda Hankes is a young corps dancer who, on Tuesday, was entrusted with a role usually assigned to a principal. Even so, her dancing was often assured, especially in her first act solo. But she had little idea of what to do with the mime, and it is through the mime sequences that the Lilac Fairy not only pushes forward the plot but demonstrates her authority. Hankes’s gestures were vague and tentative rather than commanding, which robbed her performance of the power it needed. She might have taken a lesson from Merrill Ashley who once again played Carabosse. This is an all-mime role and Ashley’s gestures and their meaning must have been clear to the last role of the balcony.

The second act Wedding scene variations included Abi Stafford and Adam Hendrickson as Princess Florine and the Bluebird. There is a good deal of debate over whether Princess Florine should be fluttering her arms during the pas de deux. She, after all, is not a bird, but is being taught to fly by the Bluebird. Stafford’s Florine was fluttering enough for take-off, but even so she may not have been the best of students, since her listening gestures with hand to ear were almost non-existent. Hendrickson was close to airborne,himself, with light-as-feather jumps and beats. Austin Laurent, Antonio Carmena and Allen Peiffer were the virtuosic Court Jesters and Stephanie Zungre and Sean Suozzi again appeared as the White Cat and Puss in Boots. Peter Martins’ idea of using a child to portray Little Red Riding Hood was among his most inspired and Maria Gorokhov was perfect in the role, to Henry Seth’s Wolf. It might be added that Gorokhov had no trouble with her mime, which could not have been clearer. Stephen Hanna and Teresa Reichlen were once again Gold and Diamond in the Jewel variations. Scheller and Lauren King were Ruby and Emerald. David Briskin led the orchestra in the Tschaikovsky score, which sounded fractionally better than last week.

Photo on front page, of Ashley Bouder in the Rose Adagio, by Paul Kolnik.

Volume 5, No. 3
January 15, 2007

copyright ©2007 Gay Morris

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