What’s going on here? When you can’t follow a ballet’s action, you can always read the program notes. And that’s where you learn that Lilac has informed the royals that they must “leave the castle and leave Aurora to her destiny.” Why? So that she can cry and cry and cry until her tears turn into a river (the Prince and Lilac sail up it in the next act). In another Tchaikovsky-Petipa masterpiece, Odette tells us in mime how her mother’s tears created Swan Lake, and anything Odette’s mom can do, Aurora’s can do better. Of course, the banishment of the monarchs and their absence from the last act undermines the central thrust of Sleeping Beauty—the restoration of civilization through the defeat of evil. But when you’ve got hold of a Concept, out goes the meaning with the river water.
The Vision Scene. Prince Désiré is discontent. He moons around the forest glade, performing extended solos to compensate him for having so little dancing to do until the grand pas de deux in the final act. At this point in your ordinary Sleeping Beauty, the Lilac Fairy grants him a vision of Aurora, and he’s hooked. But at A.B.T. these days, he drinks from the River of Tears and has a dream … and then he has the vision. Two sightings of Aurora for the price of one, to half the effect.
Carabosse. She fusses, she fumes, she comes and goes in misfiring loud bursts of smoke and flame, she turns into a spider (her hideous bug-slaves extruding filaments from her contorted body—a good touch). And so she traps poor Désiré in her web way up in the air. Lilac is up there too—let’s hope the dancers don’t suffer from acrophobia—and of course Lilac wins out. But it’s all pro forma: We’re in a comic book, not a great ballet.
The Awakening and The Wedding. They both go by in a flash. The standard divertissement is merely sampled: a snatch of the White Cat and Puss-in-Boots, of Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, of Cinderella and Prince Charming. We do get the whole of the “Bluebird pas de deux,” with Princess Florine carried on in a cage. And we get the grand pas de deux. But no one except those few courtiers has bothered to come to this combination royal wedding and coronation. Maybe they didn’t send out invitations? Have they forgotten that this is what got them into trouble with Carabosse in the first place?
SO FAR I’VE SEEN TWO of the six casts. (Help!) Opening night, the Aurora was Veronika Part. Little as I enjoy her in general, I can’t really blame her for this performance: She’s simply miscast. Aurora is a young girl, light, joyous—the dawn. Part is heavy, slow, deliberate—deep twilight. The closest she got to youth and charm was that relentless smile pasted on her face, which nothing could wipe off until she got to the demanding moments of her “Rose adagio,” when her nerves did it for her. Her better moments were in the Vision Scene, in which she could be ineffable.
Aurora No. 2 was the reliable Paloma Herrera, who knows how to convey youth and sweetness. Example: Part flings the suitors’ roses at her mother’s feet; Herrera gently places them there, with a modest reverence.
Michele Wiles has no problem with the Lilac Fairy’s steps, but she lacks composure and command. Marcelo Gomes and Angel Corella were worthy Princes—Gomes his usual manly, expansive self; Corella his usual elegant charmer. The superb Herman Cornejo would have been an even better Bluebird had he not been hampered by his cluttered costume and ludicrous headpiece—and by a Florine a little too big for him (Xiomara Reyes). He would have been far better off paired with petite Sarah Lane, who did an exemplary job in the second cast. (Lane might well have been a more suitable Aurora than half the ballerinas who are doing it, but at A.B.T., hierarchy rules.)
Why go on? The whole thing is a big misguided mess. You may feel that Peter Martins’ Beauty is too compressed and inexpressive, but it’s loyal to the text. The McKenzie-Kirkland-Chernov rendering, in trying to be original, ends up a travesty.