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Amsterdam Sleeping Beauty

Herman Stevens

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Peter Wright’s version of Sleeping Beauty has been in the Dutch National Ballet’s repertory for such a long time (since 1981) few people can remember seeing another version. Four years ago the previous run of Sleeping Beauty was the occasion of a dvd-shoot with Sofiane Sylve as Aurora - one of the few cases of a dancer winding up on a dvd in the prime of her / his career.

Sylve was at the height of her powers in her December 2003 Sleeping Beauty, and yet one cannot help but wonder whether that much power should be visible in an Aurora. For purists Sylve’s Aurora was too athletic, too much Petipa via Balanchine. In spite of many imaginative details - the loving way Sylve glances at her feet like a girl discovering her body - the real flaw in her performance is however of a structural nature. The challenge in Sleeping Beauty is presenting three different sixteen-year old princesses in three Acts, and Sylve doesn’t really do this. Her Aurora is firmly present in the first Act; after that the picture gets blurry.

The most exciting Aurora in the 2007 run was new to the role. Siberia-born, Bolshoi-trained, 28-year old Anna Tsygankova joined the Amsterdam company by way of the Hungarian State Ballet, where she’s still dancing. I had seen Tsygankova in 2004 in a Hungarian Coppelía, in an unappealing tour set. Her Swanhilda had not quite prepared me for the revelatory Julia in Rudi van Dantzig’s Romeo and Julia earlier this year. In the intervening years Tsygankova had apparently discovered the magic of restraint. In R & J a performance of shattering power was only enhanced by her classical poise. I read Van Dantzig called her the finest Julia in years afterwards.

Aurora and Julia are both young girls, but they are light years apart. Van Dantzig’s Julia is a dramatic role; in Aurora’s case dance is the alpha and omega. Again Tsygankova was very impressive. A performance to remember. It turns out she is a richly imaginative dancer who - in her first Beauty run ever - has a clear picture of what Aurora is about. In her Sleeping Beauty every Act is part of an unfolding portrait.

Unlike Sylve she didn’t put all her cards on the table in the first Act. At her coming-out party she is fleet-footed and occasionally a little coquettish. At no point did you get the feeling one of the great technical challenges in the repertoire was imminent. On the contrary, just as she was getting on point for the final turns en attitude Tsygankova cast a playful glance over her shoulder - not something you want to do a lot, but it served to remind us that there’s more to Beauty than the Rose Adagio. I should add I’ve rarely seen an Aurora with such a rock-solid point technique.

There were shades of Swan Lake in her Vision Scene, the part of Wright’s version that really outshines most other versions. Again Tsygankova’s classical restraint worked wonders. In the variation with the plaintive oboe solo most Auroras, coming through the middle, throw up their legs straight away. Tsygankova started at ninety degrees, building up dramatic tension slowly. In the Rose Adagio she had changed the traditional script, handing the queen her second bunch of roses nicely, rather than tossing it on the floor. In the Kiss Scene there was more evidence of this dancer re-imagining Aurora, when she touched her lips after awakening, as if she was wondering if it had all been a dream. Other Amsterdam Auroras have been incorporating this in their performance, I noticed later.

Finally Tsygankova danced a third Act that was dramatically connected to the previous Acts. In her pdd variation her blissful smile showed that the princess had taken the Lilac Fairy as her model, embracing and radiating harmony.

I wasn’t too thrilled with the ensemble work at Tsygankova’s December 16 matinee. This was the 4th show in the run and I got the feeling things still hadn’t quite gelled. There has been a lot of turnover in the corps the past two years, and perhaps this shows. A later performance showed much better corps work, but there were still problems with some Fairies in the Prologue. Natasja Lucassen was a wonderful new Lilac Fairy.

For those who want (and can) read my entire story on Sleeping Beauty here’s a link:


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