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Pacific Northwest Ballet

'Sleeping Beauty'

by M. Geoffery D'Onofrio

February 4, 2010 -- McCaw Hall, Seattle

Although opinions on this point are certainly likely to differ (and to some widely so), if there could be said to be one ballet in the classical repertory that has the potential to elicit the attention of both those not necessarily inclined to ballet in general and satisfy the predilection of those who are, then surely Petipa’s and Hynd’s “The Sleeping Beauty” (and in especial Pacific Northwest Ballet’s recent presentation thereof) is that ballet. It was apparent from the rising of the opening curtain that there seemed to be a special performance awaiting the initiate and the devoted balletophile alike, behind the almost motionless, translucent drape, through which the acute eye could just discern the faint and somewhat nebulous figures moving on the other side.

And yet it is with some difficulty said just what first captivated the audience, for, as this secondary translucent drape rose on either side of the stage to come to rest in a most elegant Grecian valance, the viewer was simultaneously greeted by some of the finest, most effective lighting ever to imbue a stage, and a combination of colours (of both the costumes and the stage setting) that absolutely spoke to one’s sense of vision in a manner that somehow seemed to penetrate the eyes and completely suffuse the physical body, as if colour itself had at that moment become an actual tactile substance or property. Mr. Peter Docherty’s scenic and costume design and Mr. Randall G. Chiarelli’s lighting surely elicit accolades, for their presentation (effortlessly recalling the œuvre of Maxfield Parrish, Solomon Corrodi, and their contemporaries), could hardly have been more apposite to the overall ethos of the story and the characters, together with their emotions, which figure therein.

Large Doric columns flanked the stage toward the back, the striations in which encircled them in medium-hued russets and blues, above which depended a sort of lattice-work apparatus of copper maple leaves which moved up, down, and sideways in unison with the changing acts, scenes, and dances; and upon all of this gently shone (throughout most of the ballet) a transparent copper lambency the luminescence of which so well communicated with the colours of the costumes that it is difficult to imagine anything (save for the organic Beauty engendered by the light of Nature) more chromatically pleasing. Succinctly speaking, the entire visual presentation was opulent without being gaudy or excessively ostentatious; a very fine balance between the traditionally classical and that which modernity so often seems to inherently mandate in order to maintain its affiance to forward-moving artistic preferences . . . and how eminently refreshing it is to have experienced a production that is neither afraid nor disparaging of the past, yet instead builds on the future by way of its respect for and homage to the past. For this we must extend our thanks to PNB’s Artistic Director Mr. Peter Boal---indeed, Balanchine and perhaps even Bakst would be grateful.

Yet all of this would have been bereft of its intended efficacy were it not, of course, for not just dancing, but superb dancing. It is thus incumbent upon me (and my meek critical eye yet honest cordiloquence), to say that those who witnessed this production were certainly quite fortunate to have been afforded such superb dancing. Be that as it may, it strongly appears (now judging from this performance), that Ms. Carla Körbes is well on her way to assuming the place in the company once held by the lovely Louise Nadeau.

Whilst their body-types differ (though this is not at all to say that Ms. Körbes is unpossessed of the long line, eloquence, and grace of Ms. Nadeau), Ms. Körbes’ dancing is certainly composed of the same quality of musicality, as well as mastery of technique and, of course, commitment to her Art. And it seems as well as if the constellations that comprise the world of dance are thus aligned to favour this wider emergence: for, regardless of one’s personal estimation of media coverage, the last few months have seen Ms. Körbes return to dance for a week in New York (the Joyce Theatre), the city to which Mr. Boal brought her from her native Brazil to join New York City Ballet; her praises being sung by the New York Times; a February story in Dance Magazine for which she appeared on the cover; as well as her splendid and convincing performance as the Princess Aurora in the ballet here reviewed, not to mention the various inter-weavings otherwise that support her movement throughout these constellations.

How delightful were her movements and general carriage in The Sleeping Beauty. With the power of her Fonteyn-esque legs, she (together with her fine character portrayal) truly inhabited not only the interior mental condition of the Princess, but also the pathos that the choreography itself seeks to convey. Her dances pas de seule and pas de deux were almost exercises in technical expertise and accomplishment, yet without any untoward or off-putting arrogance or didacticism. Her execution of the highly regarded pièce de resistance known as the Rose Adagio (though she did not hold the final couronne en arabesque for as long as some may have wished), was nevertheless dauntingly exceptional and a marvel for the eyes.

Though strange to say, what was almost more positively impressing, occurring at the very end of the Adagio, was the unsupported arabesque en face en pointe, which she performed (dare I say enforced) with such polished mastery that it simultaneously looked almost improvidently facile and humanly impossible. It was this that incited such tremendous applause. Such examples of excellence in dance give hope not only to lovers of ballet, but also to all artists, in that there still exists easily discernable evidence whereby it is possible to experience such a decided devotion to one’s Art in which the artist herself or himself becomes her or his Art, evincing the fact (beyond any necessary conviction) that with attention to the coalescence of emotion, intellect, and that wholly indescribable artistic impetus that permeates the entire Self, one simply and without ceremony is one’s Art.

And in correlation to this, though he does not figure as prominently as does the Princess Aurora, Mr. Karel Cruz’s rendition of Prince Florimund was, if to a lesser ascendency and shorter duration, nonetheless as equally paramount in regard to pure skill and execution. Although the popular eye does not generally give as much of its attention to male dancers as it does to female (they still for the most part viewing ballets under dear Balanchine’s unabashed proclamation that ‘Ballet is woman’; and of course said popular eye still has the tendency to revert to, and thereby employ as its ultimate criterion, the almost unfair prowess and superiority of Nureyev and Baryshnikov); yet still did we find in Mr. Cruz, with his delightfully long limbs, facility of movement and gesture, and hidden strength, a most commendable dancer of the Prince’s choreography. His entrechats and pirouettes are what any male dancer could ever hope to achieve. Their height, body placement, balance, and virtually perfect line (diagonal, vertical, or otherwise) were seemingly ‘text book’; whilst the pas de seule he danced in Act II upon learning from the Lilac Fairy (danced most admirably by Carrie Imler) that the Princess is sleeping in the nearby forest, was in every way spectacular and a marvel of balletic execution, especially the final pirouette, the turns of which I lost count---and how flawlessly did he come to rest, for such was almost mechanic in its sudden, instantaneous cessation of movement, this eliciting nearly as much applause as Ms. Körbes’ above-discussed arabesque.

In addition to the two principals, it would be remiss of this review were it to fail to mention the estimable performances by the soloists in their various divertissements, as well as the support of the corps de ballet, in all of their glorious polychromatic costumery (deep regal-blues; rich olive greens; roseate pinks; gelid yet warm yellows; Tudor-like chartreuses, crimsons, and clarets; and soft greys); not to mention the exemplary treatment of Piotor Illyich Tchaïkovsky’s score by the Ballet Orchestra.  Indeed, in special regard to the two shorter adagio intervals---the dream sequence in particular---during which the unaccompanied violin weeps languorously and soporifically in such rich, replete, and full tones, it was as if Tchaïkovsky had divined a way to somehow translate the distilled essence of some secret into musical notes. How fortunate it was to have heard such notes in a hall that is as acoustically perfect as is possible---indeed, I think that it would be possible for one seated in the back of the second balcony to hear the brush of a feather upon the floor in the most remote part of the orchestra pit.

Thus, let us revel in our fortuitousness in that we have, as a gift of great fulfilment and artistic enterprise, one of the finest ballet companies and ballet schools in the nation (indeed, PNB has the highest per-capita attendance of any ballet company in the country); and yet, above all, let us not forget this wonderful gift.


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