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San Francisco Ballet: "The Sleeping Beauty"


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#1 Terry

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Posted 20 March 2001 - 01:21 AM

This is the first time that I’m posting my personal impressions of a performance (it’s so difficult to find the right words to describe these performances and dancers!!!) but I had the wonderful opportunity to see two performances by the SFB -- both of them "The Sleeping Beauty" –- so I’ve given myself a try. Posted Image

First Night
Aurora: Lucia Lacarra
Prince Desire: Cyril Pierre
Bluebird: Joan Boada
Princess Florine: Kristin Long
Lilac Fairy: Muriel Maffre

Lucia Lacarra is a beautiful dancer. She possesses the most ideal physique for a ballerina -- long limbs, extremely small face, beautifully arched feet -- and can produce the most beautiful classical line. She displayed youthful charm in her portrayal of Aurora and her balances (particularly during the Rose Adagio) were well-controlled and breath-taking. While her beautifully “bent-in” knees created the most sublime lines for her arabesques and other poses, it also lead to some difficulties in her technique – her pirouettes and jetes were shaky in some areas. I also felt that her use of facial expression could be improved; she seemed to be trying a little to hard to look “sweet and cute” in the Rose Adagio, and I thought a more natural use of expressions would have added a certain freshness and ease to her portrayal of Aurora. In any case, her “Vision” Act was simply ethereal – I think Lacarra is excellent in adagios and perhaps more suited to dance them than the scenes with petit allegros/codas. As for the other dancers, Muriel Maffre had a striking stage presence; she really understood the significance of the role of the Lilac Fairy. Kristin Long made a fine Princess Florine; her variation was extremely fresh and crisp. I also cannot fail to mention Lorena Feijoo, who was a powerful “Fairy of Courage,” and Vanessa Zahorian (she danced one of the fairies, but I cannot remember which) who is an extremely charming dancer and would have been perfect to dance Aurora.

Second Night
Aurora: Tan Yuan Yuan
Prince Desire: Vadim Solomakha
Bluebird: Guennadi Nevidguine
Princess Florine: Tina LeBlanc
Lilac Fairy: Muriel Maffre

I was extremely excited to see Tan Yuan Yuan because my last performance of her dancing “La Esmeralda” pdd was fantastique, but her Aurora lacked the striking impression that she had left me when I last her. When I see Princess Aurora making her first entrance in the First Act, I expect to see a very charming, fresh, excited girl who is about to make her entrance into the social community of her castle environment. For me, Tan’s Aurora was a little too “strong” (I don’t know what words can really describe my impressions) but I just didn’t feel as if I was watching Aurora…rather, I felt as if I was watching the ballerina “Tan Yuan Yuan” simply performing a classical variation. I was a little disappointed also because she seemed a little inconfident during the Rose Adagio; she was technically unstable in many of her balances (attitudes and ecartes) as well as her pirouettes. I’m not expecting that the dancer be technically perfect during the Adagio, but when I see a principal dancer performing this role, I expect a certain degree of confidence in her portrayal of Aurora. Nevertheless, her 2nd and 3rd act proved to be much better, as I figure she has performed the 3rd act pdd quite a few times elsewhere. Muriel Maffre was, again, excellent – boy she can ACT!!! -- and Tina LeBlanc was a dynamic Princess Florine.

*If anyone else has seen the SFB, please post any comments!! I've become a great fan of this company -- it's an extremely exciting and strong company with great dancers, and it can no longer be called "regional" ! I would say that their caliber matches the level of NYCB and ABT. Actually, they might even be better, especially in their contemporary/neo-classical performances. Posted Image

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 20 March 2001 - 09:44 PM

Thanks very much for that review, Terry. hope now you'll have the courage to write more of them Posted Image

Ballet Nut, did you see any of these performances?

#3 Guest_Cilantro_*

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Posted 20 March 2001 - 11:07 PM

She possesses the most ideal physique for a ballerina -- long limbs, extremely small face, beautifully arched feet...

extremely small face?? is that ideal? sorry, small question.

#4 Terry

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Posted 21 March 2001 - 12:31 AM

Hello Cilantro,
Thanks for reading my comments! This is really personal opinion, but I do believe that a small face is ideal for a ballerina. The reason why I think a small face is ideal is because of the importance of a dancer's physical proportion -- the head, the torso, and the limbs. She may have the longest limbs and the shortest torst, but with a big, round face, I think the dancer's physical proportion becomes a little imbalanced. Maybe she doesn't need an "extremely small face," but often times, I think a small face makes the dancer look more aesthetically pleasing. And when the dancers have to wear the classical wigs (like they do so often during the 3rd Act of Sleeping Beauty) a smaller face seems to go better with the wig. Well, this is just my opinion. Posted Image

#5 Mel Johnson

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Posted 21 March 2001 - 07:20 AM

Nothing to apologize for there. The "mannerist" silhouette for a dancer has been fashionable even before Balanchine.

#6 BalletNut

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Posted 21 March 2001 - 09:40 PM

Alexandra--I am seeing it this Saturday, and it looks like I will be watching the same cast as Terry. [Lacarra, et al].
Terry--I was wondering myself at how Yuan Yuan Tan would do with this role; although I love her dearly, I never pictured her as an Aurora. By the way, Zahorian did dance Aurora once or twice, and I imagine she did very well. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me a bit to see her be promoted next season.

I will post a mini-review as soon as I can.

#7 ralphsf

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Posted 25 March 2001 - 02:24 AM

I've seen two performances of SFB's Sleeping Beauty and have very mixed views of it. My big problem with it is the choreography and staging. I don't think much of Helgi Tomasson's choreography and stage craft, even though I think he's done a wonderful job putting together excellent talent in SFB. There are several key areas where I think this production has shortcomings: 1) Sleeping Beauty is a fairy tale, but this staging has little fantasy, little whimsy, no drama and not much magic 2)he's made the fairies all but meaningless... he's added cavaliers to the fairies in the prologue (a bad move that removes focus from them and takes away their dancing time), he's added "little lilacs" which again, remove focus and dance time from the main fairies to the point that the fairies have little dance time and no personality. 3) His solo for Desiree in the second act is lame. He uses the peasant dance music for the prince, and gives him a solo that does nothing. Unfortunately, Tomasson just doesn't know how to link steps together, phrase dances, put whimsey, flash or character into his dances or add drama to steps. His dances always lack attack (I feel the same way about his Nutcracker, La Sylphide and Romeo and Juliet). These are all things Petipa was so brilliant at. When I look at an amazing choreographer like Nacho Duarto, I wish SFB could just dump their Helgi dances and globally replace them with his. (Even Michael Smuin had good stagecraft, showbiz flair and knew how to put steps together) 4) He doesn't know what to do with crowd scenes. Look at the scenes with Carabosse (called the Dark Fairy here). Nobody reacts. Everyone stands around just looking dumbfounded. The Dark Fairy's attendants(they look like crows) look like something out of a high school dance performance and, yes, completely remove focus away from this pivotal moment in the ballet. His treament of the Prince-Aurora kiss is leathal. No magic, no sex, no drama leading up to it, no magic resulting from it. Come on Helgi, this is supposed to be the moment the audience is waiting for.

Okay, SFB has wonderful, wonderful dancers. I just didn't feel they were coached very well in the classical style. Tomasson makes a big deal about how Russian this ballet is, but his principal dancers (especially the women) have little of the Russian style, nuance and flair needed to pull off these dances. Case in point, I saw both Vanessa Zahorian and Tina LeBlanc dancing Aurora. Neither dancer phrased the role very well. Neither finishes phrases before going into the next step. No puntuation to phrases. Zahorian was more charming in the role since she's so young, and it's her big break. I can see her growing into the role but I didn't think she was good in the first act. She got better as the performance wore on. LeBlanc, I don't feel, is well suited to Aurora. She's a very modern dancer, and while a strong technician, she's not terribly expressive. There was no chemistry between her and Parrish Maynard (definately one of the best dancers in the company... who looked silly in his white wig... they should dump it) I wish I could have seen Lacarra who is their best female principal. I suggest everyone watch the video of the Kirov version with Alla Sizova from 1965 to see how Aurora can be danced--she's incredible technically and can make your heart break. The big difference in quality comes the level of coaching. The SFB just didn't put in a very refined performance. And I say that even though I've loved them in many of the non-Helgi pieces I've seen them in this year. They have incredible talent in the soloists and corps. Perhaps they have too many casts, and not enough time to really grow into the work and polish it. Sleeping Beauty is one of my favorite ballets, I just wish SFB could get a great version of it.

I'm curious about other opinions out there of Tomasson's work like Prism and Turning Game. Did you think these are good ballets? Can't say I did.

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cheers,
Ralph

#8 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 25 March 2001 - 09:40 AM

Ralph -

Welcome and thanks for joining in with the really interesting commentary. One quick question (I'm on the wrong coast, so didn't see the production) Did Tomasson do more for the cavaliers in the prologue than is usually done? In various productions I've seen, they usually are there to lead the fairies out, partner them in a dance (the one with the climactic pirouettes into attitude) and have one short dance as a group.

There are more San Francisco Ballet Talkers here, and I hope they will chime in on the production!

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#9 Terry

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Posted 25 March 2001 - 09:54 PM

Hi Ralph,
I agree with a lot of the points that you made. When I saw the performances, the sets and the production itself didn't strike me very much as a "fairy-tale." But this would mainly be a matter of cost, and perhaps the SFB didn't want to/couldn't spend so much on this production?(I'm only assuming here...) But even if the production itself wasn't too impressive, I agree wtih the fact that some of the dancers were excellent. I do, too, think that some of them could have been better with better coaching, but I see this so frequently in other companies as well. If they don't have the time or the opportunity to get the best coaching they can, then that would mean that the dancers would have to do more "research" (reading the original novel, watching videos, etc.) and challenge themselves on their own, which I think also accounts for a dancer's talent. This is what I think partly differentiates good dancers from bad: the amount of research and devotion that they put into their character. As Sylvie Guillem once said, the dancer has to use and try different sorts of ingredients, as if they were cooking. I'm not implying that these dancers aren't hard working, but sometimes, I do feel that some dancers are lacking in their amount of research.

#10 ralphsf

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Posted 26 March 2001 - 01:10 AM

The sets and costumes were pretty (well, NOT the ugly wig they stuck on the Prince), but they weren't really matched by the style of the performing. Russian ballet is full of demi-character moves. Some of the most famous solos have a lot of folk dance in them. The fairy dances of the prologue should be brimming with personality and spice. I just didn't see any of this. I think SFB actually has plenty of dough for their productions. Their Nutcracker is fairly lavish, just the choreography and staging are flat. What I find less than satisfying about Helgi's tenture is that his productions are of a very middlebrow taste, in the city that has a lot of good dance. I think he's a good administrator, great at hiring talent, just not a good choreographer or stage director. With the roster of dancers they have, SFB could be even better with less Helgi.

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cheers,
Ralph

#11 BalletNut

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Posted 26 March 2001 - 01:11 AM

Well, I'm glad other people saw, and for the most part, enjoyed this performance. I suppose I did too, and will try not to write a book about it. Posted Image

So here is my "mini-review:"

Saturday Eve, March 24, 2001

As a whole I like this production. The costumes mostly are exquisite [although I do have some reservations about the Obi Wan Kenobi-esque robes worn in the Prologue.], especially in act 3. The sets are quite handsome, at least what I saw from up in nosebleed territory [aka the balcony]. My main gripe about the production is the way that the music in Act 2 was switched around, so that instead of the gong sounding as the Princess wakes up, we hear some soft violin music instead, which I found very anticlimactic.

As for the cast, Lucia Lacarra and Cyril Pierre danced the royal couple, with Muriel Maffre as the Lilac Fairy, and Roman Rykine and Katita Waldo as the Bluebird and Princess Florina. I know I'll get flamed royally for this, but, simply put, Lucia Lacarra is not my favorite dancer. I must be the only person who feels like this, as La Lacarra has garnered an almost cult-like following in SF. She is easily the most popular dancer in SFB right now, with her "perfect" body and streamlined extensions, and she knows it too. She spent the bulk of Act 1 with a big fake grin on her face, until she pricked her finger. Now I know that this is Aurora's big coming-out party, and she should be happy, but Lacarra's smile was more of a "look at me, I'm performing" smile than a smile of genuine happiness.

Fortunately, she fared better in acts 2 and 3. Her Vision Scene was appropriately ethereal, and the Wedding pas de deux was as good as any I've seen. This was due in no small part to Cyril Pierre's thoughtful partnering. It must be fun to dance that pas de deux with your real life partner. [Pierre and Lacarra are married.]
Muriel Maffre was a sublime Lilac Fairy, authoritative without being overbearing, but Anita Paciotti's Fairy of Darkness [aka Carabosse] was a bit on the campy side. The other fairies were all excellent, especially Amanda Schull and Vanessa Zahorian, as the Fairies of Generosity and Playfulness, respectively.

In Act 3, Liz Miner and Guennadi Nedviguine shone--pardon the pun--in the Jewels pas de six. Dalene Bramer and Peter Brandenhoff stole the show in the "Puss in Boots" Divertissement. Katita Waldo was a superb Princess Florina to Roman Rykine's Blueburd, even though I couldn't see his legs very clearly, except when he jumped, as his dark blue tights were very close in color to the stage.
To wrap this up, I was very impressed with the way SFB put on this production, and I look forward to seeing them again. [and again and again...]



[This message has been edited by BalletNut (edited March 26, 2001).]

#12 Françoise

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Posted 26 March 2001 - 05:24 AM

Must someone see Pierre-François Vilanoba in Desiré part, I'm waiting for information about him. He was at POB before join SFB and I would want to know how he dances now. I hope see him in SFB tour in next april especially in Otello. If someone could make me a review of him, I thank for it.

#13 CygneDanois

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Posted 26 March 2001 - 10:04 AM

Ralphsf, did you not think that Zahorian was "Russian" enough for The Sleeping Beauty? She was trained at the Kirov Academy. From early videos I've seen of her, she appears to have been very "Russian" when she was a student there.

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CygneDanois

#14 ralphsf

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Posted 26 March 2001 - 11:08 PM

I don't think she's like a regular Balanchine prototypical American dancer (who mostly dance from the waist down), but she doesn't seem unually like a Russian one either. I always think most good Russian dancers have unusually expressive torsos, arms and backs and very clean line and phrasing. They are very well finished. That doesn't mean they're always better at dancing or better technicians. I think Zahorian has a bright future ahead of her. I would love to see her as Juliet. But there are a lot of good dancers among SFB's soloists and corp. It's a company that's really packed with talent.

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cheers,
Ralph

#15 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 27 March 2001 - 12:16 AM

What's funny is I saw Zahorian dance at the Erik Bruhn competition in '99 in Toronto and the first thing I thought was "That's an Aurora!" So go figure!

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