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Dance review: ABT's 'The Sleeping Beauty' at the Music Center

July 16, 2010 |  2:15 pm

The “Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center” season that delivered artistic epiphanies with two important historic reconstructions – the Joffrey Ballet’s marvelous staging of Frederick Ashton’s “Cinderella” (1948) and Merce Cunningham’s brilliant “Roaratorio” (1983) – drew to a deeply disappointing conclusion with American Ballet Theatre’s vastly flawed 2007 restaging of the ballet classic, “The Sleeping Beauty.” ABT, its brand seriously tarnished as standard bearer of the 19th century story-ballet repertoire, must decide whether to prolong the ballet’s life (the $2-million investment, a pittance in our local industry, constitutes big money in the ballet world), or somehow repurpose it.

Beauty Despite a valiant effort, effervescent American ballerina Gillian Murphy proved at Thursday’s opening of a five-performance weekend stint at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion that a single woman, even as superlative a classical dancer as she, could not salvage a full-evening ballet.

But boy, she came close. A 31-year old redheaded vixen of a dancer with a peaches-and-cream complexion, a bow-tie mouth and sturdy American legs, Murphy was raised in the Carolinas — she’s Scarlett O’Hara on pointes. She took to the stage after 40 minutes of story exposition so hopelessly muddled, over-populated, and over-costumed in such poor taste that the ballet’s “Prologue,” which revealed the evil fairy Carabosse’s curse on baby Aurora, was a hard act to follow.

Yet she arrived like a no-nonsense CEO (albeit one clad in a fetching long-sleeved tutu, one of the few nice ones of the evening), dispensing immediate authority with her well-oiled, beautifully contained and polished dancing -- a lovely actress who spoke from the tip of her head and in a charming manner of pitching her pretty face to every angle.

Murphy's Aurora segued purposefully from girlish innocence to a deeply fulfilled womanhood. Later in the ballet, she unleashed pirouettes revelatory in their textbook placement and execution -- and then came her greatest gift, the natural ballon with which her leaps sat in the air like puff pastry.

FairyAurora’s Prince Désiré, the dark, handsome and chivalrous Marcelo Gomes, displayed Murphy to her best. The comfortable pro made small work of his ménage of leaps, so pleasing with their pliant landings. But his slightly ironic facial expression signaled, “I’m in this thing … but not really.”

Indeed, the dancers’ disbelief in “Beauty's" fantasy dimension marred the proceedings. Cast members, weighted in fussy costumes, shuffled the stage listlessly, their bodies exhibiting as much energy as Angelenos waiting at bus stops.

Only character dancer Victor Barbee commanded, his pantomime readable as Aurora’s dad, Prince Florestan. Scrolling down the cast list, the dance quality diminished. Michele Wiles failed to radiate sufficient feminine spirituality and moral authority as Lilac Fairy. She’s the story’s savior, but her presence didn’t galvanize much, and her beautiful variation, which should momentarily transport, made little impact. The five featured fairy roles, set to Tchaikovsky’s pristine character-driven music nuggets, were brittle across the board; not one truly charmed. And the virtuosic Bluebird pas de deux, although a vehicle for ingénues, Yuriko Kajiya and Daniil Simkin, mismatched in appearance, both forayed into classical technique disrepair.  

The “Sleeping Beauty” design team let these dancers down. Willa Kim, a veteran Tony-award-winning Broadway and dance costumer, saddled the production with convoluted costumes in ghastly colors, this in a ballet whose major theme is harmony. The clothing worked neither standing still nor in motion. As for the sets, my neighbor audibly winced at Tony Walton’s fourth act décor, a windstorm of doily wallpaper and Grecian columns, a white frou-frou fantasy. It was this viewer’s first experience in which production design hampered the ability to view dance.

The patient and polite, dance-hungry Music Center audience, inured to every kind of dance import, rewarded the dancers with applause and affection. When the show finished, the audience rose thoughtfully only when Murphy took her bow. Four other ballerinas will carry the mantle of Aurora throughout the weekend, Paloma Herrera, Irina Dvorovenko, Xiomara Reyes and Veronika Part. Friday night, blond prince David Hallberg takes the stage, partnering Herrera.

--Debra Levine

"The Sleeping Beauty," American Ballet Theatre, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, downtown L.A., 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday: $30 to $120; (213) 972-0711 or www.musiccenter.org

Photos: Gillian Murphy's grand jeté in "The Sleeping Beauty," top, and the Lilac Fairy (Michele Wiles) with her attendants. Credit:Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times.


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Comments () | Archives (22)

It is tough to present something that is so highly regarded in the grand tradition of classical ballet as Sleeping Beauty. Past productions and great artists always come to mind. The standard here in Los Angeles was set very high by the many Royal Ballet tours with Margot Fonteyn, Lynn Seymour, etc.... We have yet to witness the fully reconstructed Petipa choreography as performed by the Kirov (now back to Mariinsky) Ballet at the MET stage a few years ago, which Anna Kisselgoff of the NY Times raved about. This review comes as no surprise to professionals in the ballet world. Kevin McKenzie should stop trying to be Petipa and just have an expert like his own ballet mistress, Irina Kolpakova, stage the Petipa classics.

I must have been at a different performance last night. Not only did I thourougly enjoy the dancing, I also did not think that the costumes were ghastly. This is a matter of individual taste and I personally liked the colors. Luckily I have seen this ballet performed in Stuttgart, Germany and at several other locations, so I have some basis of comparison. This was one of the better performances, particularly Murphy as Aurora was a joy and so was Gomes, as the prince.

It is sad to see a reviewer so out of touch with dance. ABT is a world renowned company and to think that none of the dancers danced at an adequate calibre is hard to believe. In this economic downturn, where arts contributions are evaporating, it would not hurt for a ballet amateur/reviewer to try and find something to support in an evening of dance. I only hope that ballet enthusiast are not deterred from seeing a performance from ABT. I attended the performance last night, and where their were faults I did find great dancing.

I found it hard to follow this review. The run-on sentences short on information were boring and confusing. And how do you calibrate the radiation of "sufficient feminine spirituality and moral authority"?
I'd also like to know something of the choreographer and the producer of this production.

"The patient and polite, dance-hungry Music Center audience, inured to every kind of dance import, rewarded the dancers with applause and affection. When the show finished, the audience rose thoughtfully only when Murphy took her bow."

Isn't a pity that the paying audience has no taste that it actually enjoyed the performance. I was one of those individuals who "thoughfully" (I gave it great thought) rose from my seat when the principals took their bows.

What a joy to see the American Ballet Theater's production of "The Sleeping Beauty." I thank the ABT, all of their beautiful and gifted dancers, the production staff and the dedicated LA dance theater going audiences who support the ballet. The only bad taste in the evening was Debra Levine's scathing review and having to hear about her neighbor's whincing at the set design. From this ballet going audience member's POV, it was a joy to see ABT's traditional, classical production with all their artistry, pomp, bling and beauty of the ballet. Bravo ABT. Standing O! Please keep coming back to LA despite our seemingly unfriendly and unsupportive reviews. And Debra, darling, have a nice cocktail next time before the show and sit back and let yourself enjoy the magic and lighten up on ABT, please! Seriously!

Sadly, this review is absolutely on target. I saw the Saturday matinee performance. On my way home, I thought about the Woody Allen joke: The food was horrible, and such small portions. The afternoon looked like a ballet recital and not like a performance of America's (formerly) premiere company. Dancers were falling out of position, most of the performances were uninspired, props were dropped. Then, the solo variations were axed from Act III, as were the story book dances (including that of the cats). Did someone think no one in the boonies of Los Angeles would notice, or care? Savvy audiences, save your time and money on this one. The reviewer is not out of touch; she is perceptive and willing to say so.

Mdme Najinska is right; I was there today as well and I agree with her whole heartedly. I read this review before going, and I feel it is right on target. While I believe the quality of the dancing was good, the staging and direction left much to be desired. I recall ABT’s former production with fondness, but today I was disappointed in the production and also appalled by the cuts – especially the ones in Act III. The costumes were garish and strange: the designer has the first act take place around 1400 – and then, “100 years later” everyone is dressed in full 18th century garb complete with panniers and powdered wigs. The sets looked like a cross between a Disney theme park ride and a Thomas Kincaide painting. I am also unhappy with this growing trend of mashing things together in order to save time. “Sleeping Beauty” is a three act (with prologue) ballet – turning it into two acts was bad for the plot and hard on the bladder. ABT did the same thing with “Swan Lake” last year, also with bad results. I wish I could see the Royal Ballet’s version again.

I just returned from the Saturday evening performance w/Herman Cornejo & Xiomara Reyes in the lead roles. They were divine. The costumes are gorgeous, & the sets sublime. It's a fantastic production.

BTW, I'm nearly 60 & have been going to ballet, opera & classical performances for years. This review did terrible damage to all the hard work & artistry of the ABT. I ask them all to forgive the people of Los Angeles. Those at the performances reveled in the performances and incredible display of skills from the musicians, the dancers, & the stagehands. You are all fabulous.

P. S. The performance I saw was nearly sold out, so obviously people ignored this ridiculous review.

Huh??!! Here is the glowing NY Times review of the same production by Alastair Macauley (who can often himself be hurtfully cutting): http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/21/arts/dance/21sleeping.html

I was at the Saturday matinee performance and the only complaint I have is that the much-awaited awakening scene props were so far to the left of the stage (and I was at the very end of my row) that I couldn't see it. That is the only gripe I have because I thought the production, dancers and costumes were divine. I have absolutely no clue what this reviewer is complaining about. Probably one of the finest ballet performances I have ever seen and I go to quite a few when they're available.

We thought the Sat matinee show was amazing- however I did long for a solo of the cat (Hee Seo). I didn't realize it had been cut. My daughter and I fully enjoyed every moment of this ballet and will go see ABT any time we can. We have seen countless ballets and this by far was the most professional production we have ever seen. We thought the costumes were beautiful and the dancing was DEVINE! The only thing bad I see is that terrible review. I guess maybe you see things differently when you know how much blood, sweat and tears and BARRE time it takes to be this good. Maybe someone should send Debra a complimentary pair of pointe shoes to change her POINT of view.

I saw the Sunday matinee performance of Sleeping Beauty today and I totally disagree with the reviewer's comments about this production. I thought that it was a wonderful performance from beginning to end. Not only were the principal dancers exquisite but they were not at all let down by the corps de ballet, either.
Also, the costumes were lovely and the sets worked very well for this particular story. In a word, it was magical . . . . very much like the fairy tale that inspired the ballet.
P.S Kudos also to the orchestra which did a great job with Tchaikovsky's sublime score!

Thanks Peter Quennell | July 18, 2010 at 10:44 AM for your link to the NY Times review. All the glowing words were for the two guest ballerinas (one from Royal Ballet and one from the Bolshoi). Sadly, neither of them were booked for the LA appearances. The review of the production can be read here: http://theater.nytimes.com/2007/06/04/arts/dance/04slee.html
It clearly lays out the problems of this Sleeping Beauty.

Mr. Macauley of the NY Times didn't like it all that much either from his review. Disneyesque is not a compliment outside of Anaheim.

I love ABT and regularly fly out to see them on the other coast as well as make it a point to catch them whenever they are here in Los Angeles. (They just closed out a wonderful season in New York - Camelias, DQ, R&J!) Marcelo Gomes is, without question, one of the best male dancers in the business today and although I am personally not a huge fan of Gillian Murphy, she is a technically wonderful dancer.

But this production was Disneyesque. The dancing was proficient. But, and it pains me to say it, ABT was not at its exuberant best. I've seen them explode on stage when Mr. Gomes jetes make you gasp and you can't take your eyes off the stage. Sorry kids, this was not it.

The production was simply o.k.

Don't believe me? Then believe the photo--the third one above. Notice the variations in line and in musicality (soloists and corps)? And that's just one shot of the two-hour performance. And, by the way, Gioconda, I am nearly 60 and likewise have been watching (and studying, performing, and teaching) ballet for years. I ask ABT not to forgive Los Angeles but to do better here.

Why is Debra Levine allowed to even write a review for the LA Times?

I attended the Saturday evening performance with Xiomara Reyes as Aurora. Xiomara is arguably the best ballerina in the US and received a standing ovation. The performance was utterly amazing and the audience agreed. And this old hag is criticizing everything from the dancers to the costumes to the sets... which I thought were beautiful, including the colors. This woman need to go. ABT please continue to come to Los Angeles, despite this nasty woman's review.

Indeed, I must have been at a different theatre. I’M the ticket buying public. I saw the performance twice, both Thursday night and Friday night and thoroughly enjoyed the performance both times. So did my friends that attended with me and so did other people sitting near me. I thought the sets, costumes, colors perfectly evoked a true storybook. And the dancing was tremendous, from the crowd-pleasing bluebird role to the leads to the deliciously nasty Carabosse. No, it wasn’t perfect, I have a complaint here and there but you make it sound as if it was a flat out disaster. You are not helping the state of ballet in Los Angeles at all.

One of the most insightful comments regarding the ABT's Sleeping Beauty is that of Michael, July 16. His comment that "Kevin McKenzie should stop trying to be Peitpa and just have an expert like his ballet mistress, Irinia Kolpakova, stage the Petipa classics" is to the point. Alternatively, McKenzie might solicit the help of a company like the Royal Ballet who knows how to produce classical ballets. I attended the Sunday matinee and, despite a different cast, I found Ms. Levine's observations about the Thursday evening performance on the mark. The principals were adequate, the corps de ballet just adequate, the over-wraught production less than magical, and McKenzie's choreographic intrusions less than compelling. The Royal and the Kirov have taught us what to expect of a classical ballet. Ms.Levine and some of the rest of us know that the ABT needs to learn from them what classical ballet and dancing is about.

" Ms. Levine and some of the rest of us know that the ABT needs to learn from them what classical ballet and dancing is about."

Excuse me, but Ms. Levine spent 14 years training and performing as a professional MODERN DANCER. As such, I don't think she's even qualified to write a review for a classical ballet company such as ABT. She refers to Gillian Murphy as "Scarlett O'Hara on pointes". Any classically trained dancer (or reviewer) would know the proper term is "on pointe". DUH.

There is one word to describe ABT's performance of Sleeping Beauty: PERFECT. Ms. Levine's review should be dismissed.

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