SCRUTINY | National Ballets The Sleeping Beauty Filled To The Brim With Talent – Ludwig Van

Posted: March 26, 2022 at 6:32 am

Its hard to believe that the National Ballet has been performing Rudolf Nureyevs version of The Sleeping Beauty for 50 years. The lavish work, which first premiered at St. Petersburgs Mariinsky Theatre in 1890, entered the Nationals repertoire in 1972. It immediately became a landmark production that led to the company acquiring a worldwide reputation through a series of extended tours. In other words, Nureyev and The Sleeping Beauty put the National on the ballet map.

For this 50th anniversary run, the ballet has been staged by artistic director emerita Karen Kain who has to be pretty happy with the opening night performance. In an interview I did with Kain when she first became artistic director in 2005, she told me that one of her goals was to raise the companys standard of classical dance technique, and that she did.

The National is currently filled to the brim with accomplished classicists, and their prowess was on full display opening night. The corps de ballet, both women and men, were absolutely spot-on in their togetherness. Not so much as an arm was out of place, so kudos to the coaches.

The Sleeping Beauty is the full monte of classical ballet, the sine qua non of in-your-face technique. One of the hallmarks of the Russian story ballet classics is the numerous secondary roles that collectively show off the depth of a companys ranks.

In Nureyevs version, and exclusive of the two leads, Princess Aurora and Prince Florimund, there are sixteen roles that require serious dancing. Without classical chops, a company and The Sleeping Beauty are dead in the water.

What follows are some of my impressions of the opening night performance.

Principal dancer Heather Ogden was absolute perfection, and Im hard-pressed to remember a time when she shone brighter than in this performance. From the first moment she descended the grand staircase as a giddy sixteen-year-old, to the poise of the mature young woman that she is in her final pas de deux, Ogden nailed the role. Her Rose Adagio where she balances on one point shoe and raises her arms above her head was breath-taking. In fact, she kept her arms aloft longer than most ballerinas do, which made me sit in open-mouthed admiration.

Her swain was Harrison James who is one of the Nationals first line danseur noble, or, in other words, a quintessential ballet prince. James certainly has the technique that he performs with ease. There is a smoothness and grace to his movements, and I particularly enjoyed how he executed Nureyevs additional solo that shows the Princes ennui. The dance steps flowed together seamlessly with never a choppy moment. On the other hand, and Ive said this before, Id like to see him more animated.

There is one little quibble, however. I was surprised to see that Ogden was paired with James because she is a bit taller than him when she is on point. Now there are ballet purists who absolutely insist on lines above all else, mandating that the ballerina be shorter than her partner (but not too much shorter because that is equally as bad). I have to confess, that the height differential did bother me a bit in the close partnering.

On the other hand, when they performed side by side in synchronized movement, it was pure magic. The dancers both share a similar musicality that makes them look like they are of one cloth. Ogden and James absolutely riveted the eye with the perfection of their togetherness, and it showed off their technical skills to the best advantage.

The question is, however, how much do lines matter?

This uber-famous duet features a male dancer, the Bluebird, who is mostly in the air through a never-ending series of jumps, and a feather-light partner, Princess Florine, who is the epitome of delicate grace.

Principal dancer Naoya Ebe certainly has the technical skills and is both a beautiful mover and jumper, but while conductor David Briskin was pouring out the excitement in Tchaikovskys music, Ebe could not translate that into his dancing. He did have one weeny slip up on a landing, so perhaps that threw him off. I really do enjoy Ebes performances but he really needs some oomph to generate the cheers that this pas de deux usually receives. The height of his jumps was pretty spectacular, though.

Principal dancer Tina Pereira was absolutely beguiling as Princess Florine, shy and coy at the same time. She is one of the best in the company when it comes to lightning-fast movement executed with exquisitely detailed technique, and her performance was flawless. The two together painted a charming picture.

This duet is always a crowd-pleaser because its cute and funny as two pussycats squabble with each other while pulling off some technical dancing.

First soloist Spencer Hack is fast becoming the dancer of choice when you need someone who is fleet of foot. He is like liquid mercury that overlays an assured technique. In other words, hes the companys, quick foot. He also has a strong sense of humour.

Second soloist Miyoko Koyasu is equally fast but she layers her technique with uber-feminine delicacy. She too was really into her role, and together they were adorable.

These are mostly solos, and mostly female. There are six fairy variations in the first act, while in the third act, the variations are grouped together as the Jewels Pas de Cinq which allows for the presence of one man.

Each variation is different, one from the other, sometimes obviously so, sometimes more subtly, and all are famous. What they all share is technique, technique, technique. Balance, precision placement, extended leg and arm swings, lightning-fast limb thrusts, rapid-fire bourres (tiny runny steps on point), quick change of direction, not to mention jumps, spins and turns, all performed with seemingly superhuman control and consummate grace. The dancers have to make these variations look easy, when they are anything but.

In other reviews, I have pointed out the Nationals talented army of mostly first and second soloists who fill these roles with aplomb, but it doesnt hurt to mention them again, because these variations are an important part of The Sleeping Beauty zeitgeist.

The fairy variations in the first act were beautifully performed by principal dancer Tina Pereira (Third), first soloists Jeannine Haller (Second) and Calley Skalnik (Fifth), second soloists Miyoko Koyasu (Second), and Genevieve Penn Nabity (Sixth), and corps members Jaclyn Oakley (First) and Tirion Law (Fourth). The second variation is a duet.

The notoriously difficult third act Jewels Pas de Cinq is a combination of showy solos, duets and trios. The cast included first soloist Chelsy Meiss (Diamond), second soloists Genevieve Penn Nabity (Silver) and Brenna Flaherty (Gold), and corps member Clare Peterson (Emerald). Second soloist Donald Thom did princely duty as the Diamond swain. Peterson is a new name for me so she gets added to my list of ones to watch.

Of added interest is the fact that these roles get traded around in other performances, so the women arent just one-trick ponies.

These variations in The Sleeping Beauty, as well as featured roles in other ballets, allow me to watch these dancers execute their craft while getting a measure of their talent. I can then gauge their march up the company ranks. To know the principal dancers of a company is not enough.

This is going to sound absolutely preposterous, but I found the sound too loud. I kid you not. Is it because this was the first time in two years Ive heard a full orchestra in the Four Seasons, and wasnt used to the very live acoustics? (Neither of the first two programs of the Nationals season featured the full orchestra.)

Despite the loudness, there was real passion, depth, and where needed, nuance, in the music. Ive said it before, and Ill say it again. Maestro David Briskin is one of the finest ballet conductors in the world, and the number of companies who want him as a guest are legion. He is, however, ours.

The Lilac Fairy, unlike in other versions of The Sleeping Beauty, is a non-dancing role. Nureyev has her be a spirit guide throughout, and her movement is one of floating on air. First soloist Tanya Howard was simply the finest Lilac Fairy I have seen. She actually seemed to defy gravity.

It was a surprise to see principal dancer Piotr Stanczyk as the non-dancing King Florestan, Auroras father. Is he transitioning to character roles? He certainly has a lot of dance still in him. Nonetheless, Stanczyk was excellent as the king superior and commanding in every way.

Character artist Rebekah Rimsay had fun chewing up the scenery as the evil fairy Carabosse, while fellow character artist Stephanie Hutchison was suitably flirtatious as the Countess trying to entice Prince Florimund. These two dancers switch roles in other performances, so all their considerable acting skills have to be at hand.

It was nice to see former company members Jonathan Renna and Sophie Letendre back on stage. Renna was positively pathetic as the grovelling master of ceremonies Catalubutte, while Letendre was a most gracious Queen.

New artistic director Hope Muir is inheriting a company filled with talented Young Turks who have technique up the whazoo. The competition for promotions is going to be tough.

And, can I add that I still hate Nicholas Georgiadis overblown costumes which are lam on steroids. Its hard to distinguish colours, one from the other, and all those feather headdresses are just plain dumb. Im not keen on his confined set either. Nonetheless, in 1972 the look of ballet was considered the height of opulence.

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Paula Citron is a Toronto-based freelance arts journalist and broadcaster who hosts her own website, paulacitron.ca. For over 25 years, she was senior dance writer for The Globe and Mail, associate editor of Opera Canada magazine, arts reviewer for Classical 96.3 FM, and dance previews contributor to Toronto Life magazine. She has been a guest lecturer for various cultural groups and universities, particularly on the role of the critic/reviewer, and has been a panellist on COC podcasts. Before assuming a full-time journalism career, Ms. Citron was a member of the drama department of the Claude Watson School for the Arts.

Paula Citron is a Toronto-based freelance arts journalist and broadcaster who hosts her own website, paulacitron.ca. For over 25 years, she was senior dance writer for The Globe and Mail, associate editor of Opera Canada magazine, arts reviewer for Classical 96.3 FM, and dance previews contributor to Toronto Life magazine. She has been a guest lecturer for various cultural groups and universities, particularly on the role of the critic/reviewer, and has been a panellist on COC podcasts. Before assuming a full-time journalism career, Ms. Citron was a member of the drama department of the Claude Watson School for the Arts.

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SCRUTINY | National Ballets The Sleeping Beauty Filled To The Brim With Talent - Ludwig Van

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