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Sleeping Beauty Impressions

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Opening Night, 24 February 2007

Princess Aurora: Yuan Yuan Tan

Prince Desire: Tiit Helimets

Lilac Fairy: Muriel Maffre

Fairy of Darkness (Carabosse): Anita Paciotti

Bluebird: Joan Boada

Enchanted Princess: Katita Waldo

This performance looked interesting on paper, to say the least. Although I had seen Maffre and Waldo in their respective roles and had heard good things about Helimets as a prince, I was having a hard time picturing Yuan Yuan Tan as Aurora. Fortunately, she was quite good, even if one never forgot that one was watching Yuan Yuan Tan dancing Aurora; her technique was fabulous even though she didn't completely inhabit the role. Her Rose Adagio was especially noteworthy and well-received. It didn't sound like the music was slowed down for the balances to last longer than usual, but they did indeed last longer than usual, and generated significant applause both at the beginning and at the end.

As Prince Desire, Tiit Helimets started out somewhat aloof, but warmed up by the wedding pas. He is an excellent partner, rather self-effacing in his efforts to showcase his ballerina. Tan was somewhat cool in the vision scene, but perhaps she intended to be.

It was wonderful seeing Muriel Maffre as the Lilac Fairy in one of her last performances of the role before she departs SFB at the end of the season. Her prologue variation was performed as though she was savoring every single step. She overpowered Anita Paciotti's Fairy of Darkness both physically and dramatically in the scenes they had together, and used her upper body to great effect in the vision scene and apotheosis.

Other notable performances included Joan Boada's Bluebird, with impeccable batterie and musicality; Sarah van Patten's Fairy of Generosity (the 2nd fairy), which devoured space on the stage; and Molly Smolen both as the Fairy of Courage and the Diamond Fairy, where she moved with a snappy staccato and impressive elevation. The corps appeared fairly well-rehearsed, even if not in perfect unison all of the time, but still happy to be dancing this piece. The weak point of the performance was the music, oddly enough. The problem was twofold: Tomasson has seen fit to cut up pieces of the score and either insert them where they do not belong, or omit sections altogether. This is most jarring at Aurora's awakening, where the gong sounds and there is quiet music, followed by the joyous Act 2 Finale music with no intermediate music in between. It was awkward, to say the least. The second problem was with the orchestra itself. It seemed that some of the musicians were missing their cues; this was most noticeable at the start of the Puss In Boots variation (danced admirably and humorously by Dores Andre and Matthew Stewart, regardless), when the oboe missed the opening notes of the variation. Otherwise, it was a wonderful performance.

It would be interesting to hear how other people felt about this and other casts in SFB's Sleeping Beauty, and I look forward to reading all of your posts.

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BalletNut, thanks for your report. you always make me see things from a different angle.

And of course, we DID see it from different angles -- where were you sitting.

I didn't post because I was reviewing it for the weekly Bay Area Reporter, which didn't come out till yesterday. Here's the link:


Wonder what you'll think.

I didn't mention how very fine I thought Val Caniparoli (as Catalabutte) and Jim Sohm as the king her father -- he really anchors that role, though he's my favorite Carabosse: he's really hurt, you feel it. He hears the queen and the other fairies and softens towards them and then you feel the surge of bitterness, the years of snubbing and neglect....

I agree, Boada's brises were fabulous, but his temps de poisson had no curve to it, no poetry.

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I was passing through San Francisco and had one night to see their Sleeping Beauty - Thursday March 1st. I don't think I picked the right night. It might have been the audience or the cast or the interaction of the two, but it was a flat performance and generally boring evening. I thought Davit Karapetyen (sp?) was great, but the rest of the cast seemed off. And Molly Smolen fell hard and awkwardly - I'm worried she might have injured herself.

I read Balletnut's observation about the orchestra being off - maybe that was early in the run, but they sounded good on Thursday. I especially liked the solo cello - rubato and expressive but still stable enough for dancing - a difficult balance well-achieved.

Did anyone else see this show? Maybe it was jetlag getting the better of me.

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Thanks for the report, Globetrotter. I didn't see it, the flu's knocked me out for hte whole week -- but I HAVE seen Rechel Viselli over the years, and i'm waiting for her to develop confidence that she belongs onstage. Her light really flickers and dims.

She can do things, she's lovely, but she seems to be asking us to hold her hand rather than offering to take US somewhere. She was exquisite as the princess in Firebird, but that seems to be who she IS -- a shy sweet lovely girl.

Davit has a deep soft strength, generosity, sincerity, and mighty fine classical style. Haven't seen his Desire, but in Swan Lake, he took our breath away -- double tours through passe that landed in perfect crose attitudes, soft and deep and scrumptious, not showy, just princely. His mime was rudimentary, but maybe that's all they asked for.

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Be warned, this is long! First my comments on the dancing…

YuanYuan / Tiit: YuanYuan's technique in Rose Adagio Opening Night was probably the strongest I've ever seen her. As BalletNut captured perfectly, we witnessed YYT in her long balances; Aurora who?! Her extensions and lines are beautiful as always, but they were executed (literally) as if for a photo shoot. I would've also loved for her acting to be just as top notch as her extensions and balances. Her acting is often too literal in full-length ballets (see "unintentional comical moments" below), and she and Tiit had no chemistry. Also agree with BalletNut about Tiit as a self-effacing partner and an excellent one for YYT. He is quite princely, I must say, though he is more of a Mr. Adagio. It was rough watching his ending in Act III solo with consecutive jetes. YuanYuan and Tiit’s partnership was most together towards the end of their grand pas coda; they looked nice.

Tina / Gennadi: Thank you Helgi for this (dream) cast. Their dancing and acting complement each other perfectly and beautifully. And sad to say, this run wasn't perfect, but it doesn't get better than this couple. Their acting and chemistry felt very sincere and natural on their first night (2/27) and as expected, they were technically beautiful as well. They were "almost there" (i.e. perfect). Comparing with Vanessa/Gonzalo (gala) and YuanYuan/Tiit (O.N.), the fish dive sequence was most secure with this couple as well. Aurora’s endedans at the edge of (as opposed to being centered behind) Desiree's left arm after which Desiree curls his arm around Aurora's waist is scary from our perspective (Gonzalo and Tiit both do this), and you can tell that YuanYuan was holding back from the way she held her pose. Tina and Gennadi went into it smoothly and stably, though on their final show (3/3 mat) there was an uncharacteristic mishap (Tina fell off point in the middle of her turn, throwing off their timing into the dive), which Gennadi luckily hung onto. phew.

Tina was absolutely beautiful in Act2 Vision Scene--they had many beautiful moments--and she was technically strong in all her variations. She seemed slightly and unusually off in her turns in this run but Gennadi really showed his partnering strengths during such moments. Actually, let me just side-track and mention that this program also reemphasized that Gennadi Nedvigin and Joan Boada are possibly the most reliable partners of SFB in both classical and contemporary pieces (Joan had a major save in Bluebird as well, you go!). Other male dancers dance beautifully on their own but their partnering seems rough and/or not consistently stable. In Tina’s performances, my main concern was with her Rose Adagio partners. I'm sure the princes are chosen carefully based on height and other qualities, but to be brutally honest, they are not the strongest of partners (Tina’s princes were Jaime, Jonathan, Hansuke, Garrett). It may just be me; she may have been perfectly fine being partnered by these soloists/demi-soloists, but I was pretty nervous.

Oh, I also LOVE her "fever scene" -- her acting is so communicative and not overdone (she just drops the spindle, enough to show you OU!); her technique is exquisite; and most of all her BURRES are more beautiful than words can say. Now her burres are real. *ahem* I’m surprised I don’t see real burres more often. Thank you Tina!

Gennadi is an excellent choice for a role like Desiree. He dances with such ease and has a non-standoff-ish demeanor, which I adore. His gestures are gentle but communicate clearly (the way he tells his attendant to “go away” is so nice). His turns and jumps are crisp and flawless, given that he pulls through to the end :) His often 200% perfect dancing can be sprinkled with an out of the blue wobble! His musicality and timing are wonderful. At the end of Act 2, there is almost too much music dedicated to the wake-up kiss. It felt like an eternity on opening night, like a cheesy drama where you're like, "Kiss already!" but Gennadi’s timing discarded the potential for awkwardness.

Muriel as Lilac: Opening Night truly belonged to Muriel. Act 1, namely the Fairy section, would have been unbearable w/o her. She has an amazing stage presence especially for full production ballets, and her musicality in her variation was so full and never-ending. Watching Sarah Van Patten as Lilac (2/27, 3/3) reminded me that Helgi's choreography, especially in mimes/storytelling, is very literal; it is very easy to perform them so. On the contrary, Muriel has wonderful artistic sensibility and truly stands out amongst SFB dancers in her delivery.

Parish as Carabosse: Funny enough, back in 2001, my favorite couple was Tina & Parish, and he now returns as her Carabosse. Opening night w/ Anita Paciotti gave me chance to make a list of reasons why I always despise Helgi's Carabosse: Choreography is unfun and very anti-climactic. Costume is so-so. The sparks can be cheesy. Wait, where's the choreography? Then I saw Parish (best on 2/27) and decided to forgo my complaints. He was such a diva, I loved it. He really made the best out of sections lacking in choreography. He really stole the stage. Despite his spindle falling out, which he decided to repeat, :) his musicality was great and his exits/entrances were right on cue.

The Fairies showcased a group of soloists/new principal and only confirmed what I already knew. They are pretty dancers--Nutnaree (of Tenderness) has gorgeous lines--but I always feel like I'm watching class. If I saw them w/o the program or music, I wouldn't know who was who. Sarah VP (Generosity) and Elizabeth Miner (Playfulness) are too stiff for my liking; Molly Smolen was too bold, but then again, I've never once liked SFB Fairies of Courage. I thought Courtney Wright (Generosity) was great, especially on 2/27. As a group, they all dance pretty differently and separately, which is unfortunate in end poses, etc.

Jaime as a Jewels Cavalier: Another fabulous casting choice. I couldn't help but miss Ikolo Griffin who was amazing in 2001, but I was very happy to see Jaime in this role (2/24). His solo was gorgeous and technically superb, not to mention it’s hard to watch others when he’s on stage (it’s a pas de six, mind you). Also, Jonathan and Garret (3/3) had great camaraderie as cavaliers together. Joseph and Hansuke (2/27), are a good match in their showy demeanors but are not together at all. Their technique also needs work; I was unimpressed.

Jewels: Of the women in this pas de six, Courtney Wright stood out beautifully (esp 2/24) in the female duet. I liked Molly better in this role (2/24, 2/27) than Courage, but I wasn’t crazy about it; I preferred Frances Chung’s performance (3/3) as the lead Diamond Fairy.

The dirt: Here is an unfortunate public announcement that must be addressed. Too many men at SFB fear the double tour, or have utter disregard for executing it properly. This includes two Desirees/principals! It's a "trick" we all know too well and it's painfully obvious on stage: the quarter degree head start prior to take off. And you know there are ample opportunities to showcase this in Desiree's variation... I'm just surprised the faculty/staff haven't corrected them.

Will not comment on Bluebird as I was too disappointed.

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And onto general comments…

Casting choices:

* Tomasson's change for the better was to take out the decoration guests--Beauty/Beast and Harlequin/Columbine of 2001-- from cluttering the Act 3 stage. The length of the production is plenty (2h40min), but it's curious that we don't have Little Red Riding Hood. or Cindrella. But again, we have a herd of Polonaise peeps to fill the stage.

* Surprised that Nicholas Blanc wasn't cast as Bluebird. His technique is cleaner than the other two chosen. Same goes for Garen Scribner as a Jewels Cavalier.

The costumes:

* Unlike some no-no costume choices I've pointed out in the past, I'm happy to note that Desiree's tops in Act2 & 3 were just right. (SFB's Siegfried could use a similar look instead of the v-neck and torso elongating design.)

* The Bluebird can be 2.5 shades lighter and would still be darker than the backdrop. The male's top seems to house too many feathers, giving an unfortunate shoulder pad look especially when doing successive entrechat sixes. It's very bluejay.

* Does it hurt to simplify Carabosse and her minions' costumes? They don't dance enough, but just flinging their costume is just boring if not distracting. A black unitard with a strikingly simple cape or robe is fine, no? How about technique-filled dramatic choreography that would make the Royal household regret not having invited her? They have such a short stage appearance, it would barely tap into their stamina if it's jam packed with choreography :)

* I was never a huge fan of those wigs, but they actually look great!

The lighting:

* in Act2 is weird. I think they are trying to mix it up by not using the spotlight in select parts of the Vision Scene and during the fog walk to Sleeping Beauty (they instead employ scattered dim lights throughout the stage) but it's not effective. At times I could barely make out Desiree miming in darkness. Then 2 seconds later, the mobile sets do their thang and the stage lights flood on... how about dimmers?

The orchestra:

I really value how much an orchestra can contribute to a performance. There can be times when the music is so beautiful, even more than the dancing. Unfortunately, we are having some rough times. I'd like to think though that they got better throughout the nine performances. I second BalletNut on the mishaps of O.N. The triangle was disastrous in Jewels. The two halves of the orchestra were in disharmony during Fairy of Serenity especially on 2/27. The piano was louder than the rest in certain codas. I cringed more than I wanted to. But props to Ormsby Wilkins (2/27, 3/3); I really liked his conducting :) He was slightly fast on some variations where a dancer(s) may prefer slower speeds, but that's minor. He really pulled together the orchestra and brought out critical musical emphases despite those individual technical difficulties.

Unintentionally comical moments:

* To make it easier for us to follow the story, Yuan Yuan decided to STAB her hand with the spindle. LOL - I almost fell out of my seat!

* The start of Act 2 is sort of unnecessary but it's possibly on the concise side; we just need to set the stage for Desiree's short solo. Desiree's attendant has a minor role in this scene to move the story along. He's supposed to get the participants' attention (basically ours) to alert us of Desiree's entrance, and Gaetano Amico (3/3) decided instead to clap his hands AT Desiree to come in. oops!

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* Does it hurt to simplify Carabosse and her minions' costumes? They don't dance enough, but just flinging their costume is just boring if not distracting.
This should be engraved in bronze and hung on the wall of ever costume department in every ballet company in the world. And choreographers taking on the story classics should be obliged to copy it 100 times before devising movements for all those Carabosse, Rothbart, and even Dracula character villains.
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