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ABT To Unveil New Sleeping Beauty For 75th Anniversary

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Saw the Saturday night performance, with Vishneva, and Gomes as topliners, both in top form; Veronika Part brought a striking truly royal elegance and caring placidity to the Lilac Fairy. Others have expressed well most aspects of the production; I'll touch on a few strays: Elizabeth Kaye gave the pre-show talk effectively, even touchingly. I've always found her effective and touching in her remarks. Her subject was mainly Tchaikovsky and his ballet-writing career; she ended her talk with an interesting and affecting story of how the ABT show indeed went on the evening of 9/11.

For the show proper: It appeared to me that all seats were full; and I noticed no empty seats as the intermission ended before Act III. There was only a sprinkling of "little ballerinas," as far as I could see. As usual in Orange County, the audience was generous and anxious to have a good time. Cynics call them clap-happy; but I find their enthusiasm adds to the magic (and doubtless encourages the dancers!). My audience neighbors, long-term subscribers like myself, were enchanted with the show and dancing. I aired my feeling that this was the first perf of SB I've seen in which the dancing really made me feel the personality of Aurora (to which there was agreement). While I doubt I'll ever see a better Bluebird than Bujones--he really did seem to fly!--this perf's Gabe Stone Shayer gave a beautiful, lyrical, relaxed Bluebird which charmed and impressed me. I looked away at the wrong juncture; but his Florine seems to have stumbled or had a maladroit moment, if I gather correctly (and maybe I don't). Isadora Loyola gave us a very playful and sexy White Cat. Victor Barbee rendered a majestic, deeply-felt King; Alexei Agoudine fretted amiably as Catalabutte. The children dancers throughout were delightful and professional. I was fascinated by the twistings of the garlands in the Garland Dance. Craig Salstein gave a memorable limping Galifron; regrettably, the audience's attention is divided while he's doing his main shtick. I enjoyed the barely tolerant attitude of the Prince's courtiers towards the farandolists.

The weirdest costume was that of the Guards in Act III--specifically, their fabric cuisses (or what I took to represent cuisses). I'm sure many an audience member turned to his/her companion with a questioning look asking why those soldiers were wearing skirts; I'd say that they're a distraction, look graceless and bizarre, and should be dispensed with.

I was surprised that individual curtain-calls were not manifest. Though surely this was because the evening was already very long, this was regrettable, as it deprives both the audience and the dancers of fulfillment and an important aspect of anticipated across-the-footlights bonding. While the reversion to the original style of dancing deprives us of the athletic balletic excitements we're accustomed to, the subtleties of this original style more than make up for it through expressivity and suavity, making for a profoundly beautiful experience. Very much recommended!--and it appears that Ratmansky's new Nutcracker will debut in Costa Mesa this year (presumably in December), so, based on his SB, something to look forward to very much indeed.

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Princess Margaret wasn't the first boy-crazy Royal princess.

In defense of the late Princess, Margaret's unfrivolous choice as a young woman was a war hero equerry some years her senior, and the male contingent of the Princess Margaret Set tended to pursue her rather than vice versa. (In later years she did, unfortunately, acquire a certain reputation, but I'm not sure "boy-crazy" is the way to describe it.....)

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Yes, Odinthor. The ex-ballerina I was with said that Florine had a couple of mistakes, including one egregious one when she exited the stage. Vishneva also messed up a few steps, probably to be expected, given the degree of difficulty of much of what she was doing. I really hope her performance in this role is captured on film, because I want to see it again and again.

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ksk asked for the fairies' names, so here they are for the March 7 matinée with Boylston/Gorak:

Candide - Melanie Hamrick

Fleur de farine - Stephanie Williams

Miettes qui tombent - Gemma Bond

Canari qui chante - Cassandra Trenary

Violente - April Giangeruso

Lilac Fairy - Devon Teuscher

Diamond - Christine Shevchenko

Gold - Brittany Degrofft

Silver - Lauren Post

Sapphire - Paulina Waski

Luciana Paris danced the Fleur de farine fairy on Sunday evening. Zhong-Jing Fang danced Canari and Skyler Brandt the Diamond Fairy in the Sunday matinée.

The Sunday matinée had a really wonderful, ardent Prince in Cory Stearns. The last tableau that ends Act II had him on bended knee looking up with love and devotion to Aurora Hee Seo, and his variation was perfectly executed. Stearns looked and danced as you would expect from an accomplished principal dancer of a major company. I enjoyed Hee Seo in the role, due to her pristine execution, classical line, and her lyricism. She left out one of the suitors in the first set of balances in the Rose Adagio. For me, she was most successful in the first and third acts, but she was lovely throughout.

In Act III, Skyler Brandt danced a clean, light Diamond Fairy variation. Christine Schevchenko danced with warmth the Lilac Fairy variation without any changes made to it, she accomplished pulling in from a battement fouetté ending in arabesque into a double en dedans pirouette and then tombé-ing into an attitude fendu - which is what all the fuss is about in the variation, particularly as the dancer has to do this twice. I went on line after the Boylston show and watched two made-for-TV filmings of The Sleeping Beauty with Margot Fonteyn and found Beryl Grey dancing the Lilac Fairy variation in 1955 with the battement fouetté pulling into a pirouette done perfectly and expansively - that was 60 years ago.

The Sunday evening had Gillian Murphy and Alexandre Hammoudi both giving generous performances. Gillian Murphy sailed through the technical aspects, was at ease throughout, and accentuated the different aspects of Aurora dramatically in each act. It was a solid and radiant performance. Hammoudi's Prince Désiré initially had a royal hauteur in the Hunt Scene, which turned into a burning flame for Aurora in the Vision Scene. His solo was perfectly clean, musical, and he was in command and appeared truly happy. He looked like a principal dancer. After the pas de deux, the two of them at the outset of their bows had a emotional moment of being nearly overcome with joy. It was a beautiful performance.

Stella Abrera danced the Lilac Fairy, and was elegant and acted with a greater range of expression than the other Lilac Fairies, though all were excellent.

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Gorak used both hands to partner Boylston after she pulled into the pirouette, which looked clumsy and should have been unnecessary. He had to change the direction of his body to handle the turn, and she looked manhandled. This is one of the reasons I went online to watch how Fonteyn and Michael Somes, and Fonteyn and David Blair executed it (with just the left arm and without any fuss, without any reverberation after hitting the fish position, and with a beautiful smile from Fonteyn - sigh).

I assume that Gomes did it correctly with the one arm because it didn't strike me on opening night with Vishneva. Cory Stearns did not actually turn Hee Seo with both hands like Gorak, but he did use both hands to get her into the fish position, and then wasn't able to pull her up into a defined or really any position en pointe before the preparation to execute another turn diving into the fish. Hammoudi not only used just the left arm, as it should be, but he effortlessly pulled her up out of the fish into a clean, balanced passé position en pointe before she prepared for the next fish dive. It was perfect.

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There was an excellent slow motion clip of Gomes practicing the fish dive w. Vishneva. I think the clip was posted earlier in this thread. For me, it clearly demonstrated the correct way of doing a fish dive, as opposed to the modified/dumbed down way a lot of men do the fish dive at ABT and elsewhere.

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Thanks for the clarification. What do you know, those dancers from 60 years ago weren't so technically inferior after all. I am a little surprised that ABT would have fielded a group of Désirés who couldn't all pull off the maneuver, or that Ratmansky wouldn't have given Gorak the option of doing the notated version without the fish dives if it was clear he couldn't manage them.

...as opposed to the modified/dumbed down way a lot of men do the fish dive at ABT and elsewhere.

Have you seen a lot of dumbed-down versions? I can't recall every live performance I've seen, but I went to my video library and found that Somes, Wall, Bonelli, Polunin, McRae, Legris, Ganio, Heymann, Bujones, Ashmole, Lambiotte and Bolle had all done them one-handed. It's true that some held out their right arm more confidently than others, but no one was cheating.

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Yes, I've seen quite a few dumbed-down versions, including, I believe, Cory Stearns during the last run of SB. Pretty sure I've also seen Tyler Angle use the dumbed down version at NYCB. Probably others but I can't recall. Perhaps Veyette. Once you are aware of the correct way it is supposed to be performed, the dumbed down version sticks out like a sore thumb and diminishes the thrill of the fish dive.

Speaking of diminishing the choreography to suit the dancer, given the fact that they had to modify Part's LF choreography, I'm guessing that she will not get opening night LF in NY. I bet they will teach Semionova the role and give it to her.

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I'm not sure if it's only a matter of size. It's also a question of timing and dexterity, not to mention confidence of the ballerina and her partner. Now that we've been talking about it, I'm remembering that when Ethan Steifel was first brought into ABT, he partnerned Nina Anaiashvilli in an excerpt from the wedding pdd of SB at a gala. He screwed up the fish dive (don't recall the nature of his error) and Nina shot him a look that could kill. They never danced together at ABT after that, based on my recollection.

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I understand that many dancers come to ABT with motley training backgrounds, and this can be particularly problematic when a male dancer had scant access to pas de deux classes as a teen, but if Stearns received the last part of his training at the Royal Ballet School, I would have expected him to catch up on that score.

And it would also be interesting to know where Ananiashvili first encountered the fish dives and how she adapted to them, because she wouldn't have performed them in the Bolshoi production of Sleeping Beauty.

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Peter Schaufuss' Dancer series from the early 1980s featured footage of David Drew teaching partnering classes at the Royal Ballet School. A good chunk is devoted to the grand pas de deux from Sleeping Beauty.

Natalia Makarova's Ballerina series which followed included more footage of Drew and the pupils of the RBS, though the excerpts were less specific.

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Regarding the fish dives, Jann Parry wrote this, in a review of the Russian Ballet Icons Gala, which took place on 8 March:

The gala opened with the Act III wedding pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty, performed by Ekaterina Osmolkina (Mariinsky) and Guiseppe Picone (ex ENB and ABT, among other companies). No fish-dives in this version – the Russians regard them as vulgar, and Osmolkina could never be vulgar. She has the grace notes of an imperial Petipa princess, delicate wrists and elegantly inclined head, with a beautifully secure technique.

Like the big Act II PDD lifts that were retained in PNB's version of "Giselle," I was disappointed to learn that the fish dives were included in the new ABT version. The rest sounds wonderful.

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Regarding the quote above: does that mean "the Russians" don't find the prevalent, extremely high extensions in The Sleeping Beauty vulgar - not to mention all the splayed-leg lifts found in Grigorovich's pas de deux? Someone help me out here. I wonder who the source is of Jann Party's comment. (I also thought that professional reviews were not to be alluded to or quoted in this forum.)

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The company forums are to discuss reviews of what you've seen; professional reviews are available widely in the Links forum. Professional reviews can be discussed in the "Writings on Ballet" forum. Background and historical information, like the information I quoted, are fine to be discussed, as are descriptions from reviews of other performances that describe content, like the information I quoted.

What isn't allowed is discussing the discussion. If you have a problem with a post, please click the "Report" button and describe what the issue is.

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Regarding the quote above: does that mean "the Russians" don't find the prevalent, extremely high extensions in The Sleeping Beauty vulgar - not to mention all the splayed-leg lifts found in Grigorovich's pas de deux? Someone help me out here.

Yes, it is impossible to reconcile a heightened sensitivity to vulgarity with tolerance and even encouragement of crotch splitting during the Rose Adage. If the aversion to the fish dives stems from a devotion to historical choreographic purity, great, although there is little evidence of this. But an argument that "the Russians" oppose them on aesthetic grounds doesn't fly.

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I finally have some time to chime in regarding the Suday matinee with Seo/Stearns/Shevchenko/Gomes. Zhurbin/Underwood = King/Queen. Prologue Fairies in order: Hamrick/S. Williams/G. Bond/ Z. Fang / A. Giangeruso. Bluebird = Lane and Zhang

I know Seo has her detractors, but I thought she was radiant and totally on-form in this role. Probably the most well-rounded Aurora I saw this week, and she looked genuinely happy to be dancing--not just acting happy. If you are deciding whether it's worth it, I think it is. She has great chemistry with Stearns, who was not so wooden and seemed really engaged with acting in the role. Shevchenko, as Josette noted, was technically wonderful as the Lilac Fairy and also gracious and warm (and managed to overcome her slight height)--great casting. Gomes was a hoot as Carabosse; this is also great casting. I thought he had some costume malfunctions in the prologue with his cape and hat. He was gripping it like it was going to fall off for the first few minutes. If this was not a malfunction, then it's a weird choice; but it if is a malfunction, he certainly never broke character while it was occurring.

I've been seeing Elina Miettinen in the corps all week, noticing her as the petite but precise girl in the front and for the matinee she was a convincing White Cat (with Alexei Agoudine). Really lovely dancer. I would like to see Lauren Post and Gemma Bond together as the third act fairies; both have been the neatest most precise ones this week and they would look great together. Lane was expansive and delicate as Princess Florine, and while Zhang didn't make as big of a splash as Simkin as Bluebird, he certainly partnered her well.

Unfortunately, I swapped my sides for the last show (from house left to house right) to get a different perspective and wasn't able to see much of Zhurbin and Underwood's stage acting, aside from what was done in center stage. I would encourage people to avoid a far house right seat for this production, though I was closer so that enhanced the performance in different ways (and that was the reason I swapped, despite thinking it would block some action). When I sat far house left for the first two shows I hardly missed any big moments.

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