Poor Sleeping Beauty. Since the premiere of Marius Petipa’s ballet in 1890, the girl has gone through so many new palaces, wardrobes, and plastic surgeries that it’s a wonder her bones are intact. In American Ballet Theatre’s new compressed production, even those have been tampered with. The Sleeping Beauty was conceived as a spectacle, mirroring and amplifying the splendor of the imperial court that sponsored it. Yet Petipa’s classical patterns radiated an ideal of order and courtesy, Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous music pitted good against evil, and Ivan Vsevolojsky’s adaptation of Charles Perrot’s version of the tale held royalty accountable for its transgressions (you don’t leave a powerful fairy off your guest list, even if she does travel with an entourage of rats—or, in this production, creatures half-spider, half-beetle).
Kevin McKenzie, the company’s artistic director; Gelsey Kirkland, once its most exquisite ballerina; and Kirkland’s husband, Michael Chernov, a choreographer and former dancer, collaborated on the ballet’s latest doctoring. They’ve retained some of Petipa’s choreographic jewels, borrowed from other productions, and contributed new choreography and staging ranging from expressive (like parts of the Act II Vision of Aurora) to acceptable to dubious. Their major transgression is borrowed from Perrot: The Lilac Fairy excludes the King and Queen from the slumbering castle. The triumvirate concocted the notion of the Queen crying a river whose water causes thirsty Prince Desiré to dream of her daughter. Judging from Willa Kim’s costumes and Tony Walton’s scenery for this production, this Princess Aurora sleeps for several centuries (luckily, tutus never go out of fashion)–; and while you’d think a girl brought up in the Middle Ages might be baffled by a kissing prince in 18th-century attire, and ask where her parents were, she’s happy as can be.
The plot twist deprives us of the redemption and apotheosis of the whole court. Courtiers, clad for some reason in elaborate white satin ballet clothes of the period, assemble in a lacy valentine to watch highly abbreviated versions of three of Petipa’s dances for fairy-tale characters (to a hodge-podge of music), plus the “Bluebird” pas de deux. No royal parents swell with pride to see how their daughter’s careful balances with the four suitors in Act I’s iconic “Rose Adagio” blossom into daring when she dances with her true love.
Other curious decisions have been made. The six fairy soloists of the Prologue bring no gifts to the infant Aurora’s christening; they pass their wands along to be stashed somewhere in the bassinet. They don’t just admire the baby; the Lilac Fairy bourrées along, lifting the little bundle of cloth recklessly overhead. I could go on. Proud of ABT’s male dancers, the collaborators have some airborne whenever possible—encircling the wicked Carabosse as if confident that leaps and pirouettes can undo her curse, vaulting through the Act II forest, hoisting the prince during a pre-vision dream scene (don’t ask).
The ballet shows off a lot of ABT’s fine dancers. At one performance, Diana Vishneva danced Aurora with an airy, fluid precision, marred only in Act I by a studied coyness and lack of graciousness (in the “Rose Adagio,” she looked only at her four suitors’ supporting hands or at the audience). David Hallberg, an ideal Prince Charming, radiated elegance in his bearing and the deployment of his long legs. The superb Herman Cornejo excelled as the Bluebird, partnering a glowing Xiomara Reyes. Stella Abrera’s Lilac Fairy presided with generosity and grace, while Martine van Hamel’s slinky Carabosse seemed to be channeling a round-the-bend Joan Collins. The acting skills of Susan Jaffe and Victor Barbee colored the usually pallid roles of King Florestan and his queen.
It’s not the dancers’ fault that specific gestures blur into fluttery port de bras or that the stage sometimes looks cluttered. Those missteps are curable. Others, sadly, are not.