'The Sleeping Beauty'
by Carmel Morgan
February 9, 2010 -- The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Opera House, Washington, DC
Opening night of the Mariinsky Ballet’s “The Sleeping Beauty” (choreographed by Marius Petipa and revised by Konstantin Sergeyev in 1952, with additional choreography by Fedor Lopukhov) in Washington, DC, starred one the world’s most popular ballerinas, Diana Vishneva. I suspect Vishneva drew the large crowd, despite the snowy weather, but cabin fever may also have been responsible for the sizeable audience. It was the fifth straight day of serious winter weather in the nation’s capital, and no doubt people were eager to get out the house. I, for one, was extremely thankful that the Kennedy Center stuck with the mantra, “The show must go on.”
“The Sleeping Beauty” is a favorite of many aspiring young ballerinas, and the Mariinsky’s version, coupled with Vishneva’s magnetism and the lovely whiteness outside the Kennedy Center, delivered some of the childhood magic of this beloved tale. The evening might have been more magical still had the dancers let loose a little more than they did. Technically, the dancing was of the highest caliber, but entertainment-wise, a few of the individual performances were wanting. “The Sleeping Beauty” may not be the most dramatic ballet, but it offers the opportunity to ham it up here and there. In fact, the ballet needs that sort of extra seasoning to make it exciting.
Of all the dancers, Yana Selina as the White Cat (although with the white curly wig and tiny ears, she honestly looked more like a sheep), took the cake in terms of reveling in her role. She enchanted everyone with her frisky kitten play and cat fights. Selina, a ball of energy, flicked her splayed fingers as claws and tossed adorable glances at the audience to entice us into the merriment. The Bluebird (Maxim Zyuzin) and Florina (Maria Shirinkina) also gave fairly beguiling performances. Zyuzin achieved terrific height in his jumps. His alternating flapping arms and tilting legs made him seemingly fly. Shirinkina, with blue fluff resembling a bird atop her head, danced perkily. However, since one can hardly be dignified with a bird atop one’s head, she might have smiled more and really embraced the silliness. It appeared that the pace of the music was perhaps too slow for her spirited flitting about.
In addition, as the Lilac Fairy, Ekaterina Kondaurova offered a competent, cheerful performance. She presided gracefully over the storybook proceedings. Kondaurova utterly luxuriated in her waltzing. Her limbs seemed to stretch into oblivion. Anton Pimonov as the evil fairy Carabosse, also added sparkle. Pimonov sassily darted around, progressing low and fast across the stage, just like one would imagine wickedness would move.
As for Vishneva, she did not disappoint in her role as Aurora. Vishneva’s alignment was simply stunning. Her neck, back, and arms were picture perfect and as motionless the blanket of snow outside, while her legs dazzled beneath that impressive tranquility. My only complaint was that Vishneva is so accomplished that she wasn’t particularly convincing as an innocent teenage princess. While she reflected a certain amount of sweetness, due to her confidence Vishneva nevertheless came across as more of a Bond Girl, powerful and ready to kill, rather than appearing like a lovesick adolescent. Also, Vishneva flirted with the audience far more than she did with her Prince (Vladimir Shklyarov). She knows she’s an admired ballerina. Who can blame her for being more attentive to the crowd than to her onstage lover?
Shklyarov, however, captured the innocent exuberance that Vishneva lacked. His face has a natural youthfulness to it. He seemed much more thrilled about having landed Princess Aurora for a spouse than she looked regarding having him as a partner. Together, they were certainly a comely couple, though, and they provided some gorgeous moments. At the wedding in Act III, Shklyarov proudly promenaded his bride. He turned Vishneva unhurriedly en pointe, her leg in a flawless attitude position behind her. In the end, although not a smoldering pair, the two successfully conjured newlywed bliss.
Other than Vishneva, the most memorable thing about “The Sleeping Beauty” was the costumes, specifically the wigs. It’s a petty thing to criticize, but most of the wigs were truly awful. They were so painfully bad, in fact, that they proved to be a distraction. Some of the wigs for the men, rather than being blonde, were more of a chartreuse shade, the sort of color one sees in highlighter pens. (Why all the blonde wigs, anyway, is the story supposed to take place in Sweden?) Unattractive piled-high hairdos combined with costumes that sometimes had far too much poof in the sleeves, plus heavy makeup, made the women at times look like drag queens rather than delicate friends of the princess. The gentleman seated next to me correctly observed that the wig of the King (Vladimir Ponomarev) made him look either like Little Richard or Gene Wilder in “Young Frankenstein,” or maybe both (we couldn’t decide)! And the silver glitter sprayed into Shklyarov’s hair in Act III made him appear either to have bad dandruff, to have walked in a snowstorm, or to have suddenly aged.
Finally, the printed program had a few glitches in it. The program announced there would be two intermissions, but there were actually three. Furthermore, the program failed to identify the children in the production (who did a very fine job), and the synopsis didn’t quite match up with the ballet as it was performed (it neglected to mention a dream sequence in which Aurora dances with the Prince).