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

July 16, 2010 |  2:15 pm
  Beauty2
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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