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The Czech National Ballet's "Sleeping Beauty"

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Sometimes crazy costumes and props work. And sometimes it's better to just showcase great dancing.

These are my thoughts after watching the Czech National Ballet's "The Sleeping Beauty," a version by Mexican choreographer Javier Torres. This production used several fanciful elements that I imagine are probably popular with children. However, while some of these elements worked, some took the show into gimmicky territory. Moreover, with a performance time of only about two hours, the ballet seemed short to me. And compared with other SB productions, it seemed to feature fewer solos for both major and secondary characters.
I'll start by describing some of the things that appealed to me. In this version, Carabosse is a role shared by a male and female dancer, and the ballerina was on pointe. I liked that. The ballerina, Alina Nanu, is one I've seen before and enjoyed, and she was as solid as ever this time around. I also thought it was strange (in a good way) to have the fairy represented by two different dancers, sometimes within the same sequence. It added to the otherworldliness of the story.
In general, this idea of fantasy was a key concern of the production. That is, I think the production was trying to create the magical feeling of a fairy tale. At the beginning, I thought these efforts worked. The show started with a black scrim, across which a few introductory words were shown being handwritten (in light) -- a nice touch. Another good moment: between the prologue and Act I, you can see Carabosse behind a scrim crafting a poison rose (no knitting needles in this version!) in a cauldron overflowing with smoke. I thought this mini-scene helped set the mood properly.
However, the storybook elements got goofier as the show went on, and sometimes they were confusing. In the forest, the prince encounters dancing deer (complete with huge deer heads, except for a golden deer, which for some reason had a regular human head even though, according to the program, he is a full-blooded deer). In Act III, we see dancers covered in bulky brown-and-green costumes who perform with Little Red Riding Hood, then turn up again later with Florine (they were trees, maybe?). Someone else attends the wedding in a wheelchair with a cast on his leg, and I have no idea why. There had been a lot of playful pushing and shoving among the corps, so maybe some altercation took place that we were supposed to notice. To me, these sidebars were unnecessary and confusing. They distracted from the dancing. In fact, sometimes they took the place of dancing. Florine does not get a solo, but she does get to come out and present a giant prop -- a nest full of eggs. A little too cute for me, though not as bad as the White Cat with her kittens.
So, as for the principals: The princess was performed by soloist Andrea Kramešová. I thought she was OK, but not great. She seemed to struggle during the Rose Adagio. I don't think she made mistakes, but I felt I could just see the stress emanating off of her, and she didn't get her hand into the air very much -- she basically just moved it from one prince to the other. Also, there were moments in the prologue where I could see her arm or her leg trembling. Her face was often a mask of intense concentration, which made it harder (for me) to enjoy her dancing. In the later acts, she seemed a little lighter and better. I can't name a specific one, but she had some nice moments. Another positive: she has a face with a lot of character. One of her eyebrows always seems to be raised a little higher than the other, and she has a quirky smile. She definitely has some charm. It would be nice to see her in a role where she's relaxed throughout and having more fun.
As for the prince (Gabriel Barrengengoa), it's hard to say, because Act II felt rushed and cluttered to me. I wouldn't bet my life on it, but I'm pretty sure he had no solo there. I feel like I didn't get a chance to notice his dancing until Act III, where he basically seemed fine. His solo in Act III seemed less energetic to me than I was expecting -- there seemed to be fewer coupé jetés than I've seen in some YouTubes of this solo. It almost looked like, where I would expect the coupé jetés to start, he instead did some less-impressive turns, then launched into the jetés a little later. But I don't know if that was because of the dancer or because of the choreography he was given.
I enjoyed the show, and I'm glad I went. But in general I preferred the Vienna Opera Ballet's recent production of the Peter Wright version (which I wrote about here: http://balletalert.invisionzone.com/index.php?/topic/38376-vienna-state-operas-sleeping-beauty/?p=333310).

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