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Theodore Bale
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Citi Performing Arts Center - Wang Theatre
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Boston, MA
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Boston Ballet in "Sleeping Beauty"

by Theodore Bale
April 23, 2009
Citi Performing Arts Center - Wang Theatre
270 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02116-5692
April 23-May 3, 2009
Authenticity of interpretation in classical ballet is nearly impossible for the average viewer to determine, but in the case of "Sleeping Beauty" and Boston Ballet it is nonetheless a portentous, crucial matter. Just over the Charles River from the opulent Wang Theatre are Nicholas Sergeyev's extensive notes on Maurice Petipa's original production, held as part of the vast theater collection at Harvard. Former Boston Ballet artistic director Anna-Marie Holmes (fluent in Russian and the first North American to perform with the Kirov Ballet) was known to consult Sergeyev's notes for her own staging in Boston. Present artistic director Mikko Nissinen now offers the version by Ninette de Valois after Sergeyev's 1939 production, with some additional choreography by Frederick Ashton. It is an entirely sophisticated merging of Russian and British traditions, with perhaps the exception of what I believe was Ashton's garland waltz, which looked a bit like a vaudeville novelty act. These recent performances at Boston Ballet were dedicated to the late David Walker, who designed the costumes. Opening night was the brilliant epic most viewers had hoped for, and it proved as well just how unwieldy and unpredictable the prologue and three acts are to perform. "Sleeping Beauty" is sort of like the "Lohengrin" of ballet. Observing it, one wonders not only at the precision of classical technique and command of pantomime, but also the mandatory stamina and endurance.

On opening night the dancers in the lead roles took contrary paths through the three-hour dance. Larissa Ponomarenko, the reigning star ballerina in Boston, began her Aurora with curious caution. English, Spanish, Indian, and French princes seemed to tip-toe around her in the celebrated Rose Adagio, as if they had been forewarned that she wasn't feeling well. Her balances in those daunting promenades were extremely brief and labored, which cast a sense of foreboding on the scenes to follow. Ponomarenko, it seemed, was simply having an off night. Once her Prince appeared to awaken the kingdom, however, she quickly switched her demeanor. All of this might have been based in an interpretive idea about the role, except for the fragile promenades in the adagio that gave her away. Carlos Molina as Prince Florimund, on the contrary, started the evening with extraordinary gusto, confident leaps, and evident musicality-until he suffered a bad landing in his first variation following the wedding pas-de-deux. With a remarkable flourish and a frozen grimace of pain on his face, he simply walked off-stage. Conductor Jonathan McPhee led the orchestra to finish the variation, and then whispers and speculation in the audience nearly drowned out any notice of Ponomarenko's subsequent variation. I thought to myself, "What is she thinking right now?" A male dancer, apparently a supernumerary, picked up his staff and left the stage. The corps de ballet looked uneasy. Just in time for the coda, Pavel Gurevich seized the stage with Ponomarenko to finish out the duet, winning both of them excited applause. Ballet: what a strange and exhilarating confusion of traffic! And the events demonstrated, as well, just how truly dangerous it can be.

Also stunning was James Whiteside's buoyant Bluebird to Kathleen Breen Combes' delicate Princess Florine. Her balances in Act III upstaged those of Ponomarenko in the Rose Adagio, an unfortunate victory. Whiteside, recently promoted to principal dancer, is long-legged and has an equally long torso; one would think that those crazy long phrases of brisées volé would be the last thing that would look good on him, but he proved them sublime, without the least hint of a grimace. Classical ballet constantly challenges the present moment against the ideal. Sometimes you win and sometimes it's not quite there, but both situations can be equally fascinating.
Larissa Ponomarenko and Carlos Molina in Boston Ballet's <i>Sleeping Beauty</i>

Larissa Ponomarenko and Carlos Molina in Boston Ballet's Sleeping Beauty

Photo © & courtesy of Rosalie O'Connor

Larissa Ponomarenko and Carlos Molina in Boston Ballet's <i>Sleeping Beauty</i>

Larissa Ponomarenko and Carlos Molina in Boston Ballet's Sleeping Beauty

Photo © & courtesy of Rosalie O'Connor

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