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Richmond Ballet in The Sleeping Beauty- 2/11/2018

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I had the pleasure to attend Richmond Ballet’s production of The Sleeping Beauty over the weekend. It is a production of which the dancers and artistic staff should be proud; rich in details, wonderfully rehearsed and very well danced. The audience, many of whom are long-time loyal fans gave an enthusiastic ovation at the end of the performance, which was the last of a four show run at the Carpenter Theater in downtown Richmond.


Richmond Ballet, in many ways, reflects the community it calls home. Much as Richmond is a mid-sized, mid-Atlantic city which projects a modest, refined elegance without being flashy or gaudy, the dancers of Richmond Ballet come across as earnest hard-working dancers that give their all to their work. The dancers are not the most technically strong, nor the most refined, but they are elegant and deeply understanding of the material they have been given. They are able to tell a story, which in this case, proves so much more worthwhile than an arsenal of meaningless pyrotechnics.


First and foremost, the corps de ballet deserves special recognition. Every arm, every breath, every angle of the gaze had been put into place, and the unison was almost uncanny. I especially appreciated the attention to the port de bras- soft, feminine, breathy. Aurora’s friends expressed their youthful elegance and femininity through that port de bras, and the Lilac Fairy attendants expressed their ethereal magic through theirs. The musicality was reflected all the way through their fingertips. I would also enjoy a more angled epaulement through the neck and head, but this minor quibble did not distract from the overall pleasure I enjoyed from their clear, clean and musical dancing.


That beautiful port de bras and musicality was also evident throughout the soloist level. The Fairies conveyed the clean, clear classical shapes required by the choreography as well as a deep understanding of their given qualities. Sabrina Holland sticks in my memory as the Fairy of the Woodland Glade, her variation rich in beautiful line and soft movement. Eri Nishihara was on double duty as Fairy of the Enchanted Garden during the prologue, and later, Princess Florine in Act 3. The Enchanted Garden choreography was less aggressive than I have seen in other versions, but Nishihara has a very strong presence and technique, so the variation carried the same big energy and movement even though I missed the opening sequence of jetes through a la seconde. The Fairies’ Cavaliers were fine, attentive partners, providing all the support needed to maintain the illusion of fairies floating into the room.


The role of Carabosse was portrayed by Elena Bello, an intriguing artist who is most definitely on the rise. Earlier this season she gave a convincing portrayal of Billie Holiday in John Butler’s Portrait of Bille, one that I can only imagine was made all-the-more difficult by the close proximity of the audience. As Carabosse, her portrayal did not consistently reach as far into the theater as was necessary, but there were still many wonderful elements. Her evil “laugh” seemed to physically originate from somewhere deep in Carabosse’s wronged, resentful soul, and her mime was delivered with believable emphasis. In truth, I believe her character may have made more of an impact if the fine, black tutu had been accompanied by black tights and shoes rather than pink; it was jarring to see Bello’s lines cut at the hip. Additionally, her choreography was the most contemporary of the production, and at times some of those contemporary elements did not fit with the rest of the production. Even so, as a character, Carabosse was fully differentiated from the other characters, and perhaps that was the point.


Richmond Ballet fielded a stunning Lilac Fairy. Lauren Archer was simply beautiful-beautiful line, beautiful movement, beautiful dancer. She exuded wisdom and serenity-stillness within a storm. She was tall and imposing- necessary qualities in a Lilac, but delicate and ethereal, too. I loved her musical determination during the end of her variation- a difficult releve fouette, plié arabesque hop combination ending with an endedans pirouette. Somehow, her determination to stay on the music came across as strength and stability, adding to the many qualities the Lilac Fairy brings. In her confrontation with Carabosse, her simple gestures stopped time and banished Carabosse from the kingdom.


As the Prince Florimund, Marty Davis proved he was up to the task. The Prince in Sleeping Beauty is a difficult role, in my opinion, as he has less time onstage to develop his character. Davis was a strong, attentive partner, and equally convincing in his enchantment with Aurora, as revealed in the Vision Scene. Davis also brought a wonderful enthusiasm, and his love for the role and the ballet was evident throughout his moments onstage.


Which brings us to Princess Aurora. Initially, I did not think of Cody Beaton as a “natural” Princess Aurora. She is wonderfully comfortable in contemporary works, but I find her classical technique a bit tight through the shoulders. Her first entrance, however, revealed an Aurora who was as strong and vibrant as any sixteen-year-old girl could be, and I could see where Beaton had worked to change her shape and try to fit a classical mold. Her technical strength and precision came to serve her extremely well during the Rose Adagio- not a wobble, bobble or hint of a mishap to be seen, and this was her third performance in three days. I might have wished for a slightly more delicate demeanor, but this is a minor quibble considering how well-danced the Rose Adagio and following variation were.


Where Beaton completely won me over, however, was in the finale of Act 1 and the moment she pricks her finger. Suddenly, this strong, vibrant dancer became vulnerable, and the effect was marvelous. She was completely believable in her shock and bewilderment, and also used the music to express her growing hysteria during the bouree and chaine circle. The entire stage was caught up in the action, too, as Carabosse revealed herself. This suddenly display of vulnerability, on Beaton’s part, makes me wish to see what she would do with a role such as Giselle.


There are several others who deserve special mention for their contribution to the success of this production: Jerri Kumery and Peter Elverson as the regal (and very tall) King and Queen, Susan Massey Isreal as the Nurse (she actually had to “sleep” in one of those uncomfortable stage positions through much of the prologue), and Khalyom Khojaev as Puss n’ Boots. Puss n’ Boots was present throughout, from the beginning until the end, as a member of the court, a choice I don’t remember in other productions. However, he brought moments of lightness and humor as well as some spectacular dancing underneath that mask and costume. And lest I forget, the cast of children in the garland dance were charming- happy and expressive, but also beautifully trained and wonderfully rehearsed.


So- altogether, this is a production of which the entire Richmond Ballet family should be very proud. If you were to look at each individual dancer and compare their abilities with the abilities of dancers in other, bigger and more metropolitan companies, you might doubt as to whether this company should attempt to pull off such a classical ballet. However, I cannot think of a production of Sleeping Beauty where the love and care for the artistic product has been more evident, and I cannot think of a production that I have enjoyed more.



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5 hours ago, leibling said:

I would also enjoy a more angled epaulement through the neck and head, but this minor quibble did not distract from the overall pleasure I enjoyed from their clear, clean and musical dancing.

I remember watching Ronald Hynd staging Beauty at Pacific Northwest Ballet some years ago, working hard with the company on that more marked epaulment.  It was a difference from their standard neo-classical practice, and took some doing to maintain.

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