Thursday, April 4, 2013

A beauty of a Beauty from Boston Ballet

Jeffrey Cirio and Misa Kuranaga, the perfect couple.
To turn from Boston Ballet's "All Kylián" program of two weeks ago to the lush embrace of Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty is to experience a dizzying kind of high-cultural whiplash.  For while the Kylián program tiptoed up to (and perhaps over) the cutting edge of modern dance, Beauty conjures a retro-classic version of a ballet classic. Actually, make that a classic retro-classic ballet classic - for you'd need an archeologist to fully excavate all the layers of dance development embedded in this sumptuous production. The choreographers listed on the program tell the story all by themselves - Petipa; de Valois; Ashton; the sobriquets of a full century of ballet aristocracy. No wonder watching this dance is like peering through the pentimento of one genius to the portrait of another, etched on the palimpsest of a third; the very history of ballet seems to sleep within this Beauty.

It must be admitted, however, that the weight of history can make the second, and most imperial, of Tchaikovsky's famous trio of ballets seem almost too stately - especially in the Prologue, in which for awhile it's the plot that slumbers.  Or maybe it was simply that at the performance I attended (for once I missed opening night), the divertissements by the various fairies who visit Princess Aurora's christening were essayed in a rather desultory manner by recent graduates of the corps.  But the production quickly came together with the entrance of star Erica Cornejo as the wicked Carabosse (below right) - you know, the one who lays down the curse that Aurora will someday prick her finger on a spindle and sleep forever. Zooming onstage in her badfairymobile, Cornejo hardly danced a step, but nevertheless all but smacked her lips as she chewed  on David Walker's opulent scenery.

In this version of the tale, the Lilac Fairy (no, I'd never heard of her either) somehow has the power to cut back Aurora's life sentence in dreamland to just twenty years - after that, she can be awakened by a kiss.  Luckily, of course, lonely Prince Désiré (hmmm), who's just the man for the job, happens to be wandering by with a hunting party at the right moment, and the rest is - well, ballet history.

Erica Cornejo vamps it up as Carabosse.
It's hard to believe, I grant, that real poignance could be wrung from such a libretto, but of course The Sleeping Beauty, like most fairy tales, taps into deep psychological tropes, and its basic theme - the destruction, then redemption, of feminine innocence - resonates through the culture.  And the Ballet has been lucky in its casting of Aurora -  indeed, there's a classic performance set within this classic production. Misa Kuranaga, a porcelain presence with one of the company's lightest, cleanest techniques, has danced Aurora before, and always to acclaim.  But now she seems to have reached some lustrous new identification with the role; she isn't "interpreting" Aurora, she simply is Aurora.  Kuranaga soars through the ballet's famous technical challenges (including the punishing "Rose Adagio," in which she must remain frozen on point for an eternity); but more importantly, whenever she is onstage, she awakens a kind of luminous joy in Th Sleeping Beauty that makes it transfixing.

And it's hard to imagine a more perfect partner than Jeffrey Cirio, who has always been adorable, but whose technique seems to have been building by leaps and bounds from year to year; you feel you can almost see him growing artistically, like some sprouting adolescent.  Now he has a technical sheen to match Kuranaga's, and has become quite the romantic lead, too - his sudden swoop into melancholy when left alone during his hunting party, for instance, was a triumph of subtle emotional suggestion. And there are few danseurs in the Ballet who can rival him as a responsive, supportive partner; indeed, his final swan-dive catches of an utterly trusting Kuranaga elicited gasps from the audience.

Misa Kuranaga and the corps in The Sleeping Beauty.  Photos: Rosalie O'Connor

Well, that right there is reason enough to see The Sleeping Beauty - if you have Aurora and Désiré, you are, as they say, in business.  But wait, there's more in this particular production; in the famous "garland dance" of the first act, for instance, the corps made up for its seeming indifference in the Prologue.  Meanwhile Lia Cirio made a sweetly determined Lilac Fairy - all motherly concern above, calm steel below - and in the triumphant third-act divertissements (in which characters from other fairy tales drop by to party down) there were impressive turns by John Lam, Adiarys Almeida, and Ashley Ellis in a courtly pas de trois, as well as an amusing double hissy-fit by Bradley Schlagheck and Kimberley Uphoff as Puss'n'Boots and the White Cat.  More striking still were Dalay Parrondo and new soloist Avetik Karapetyan as Princess Florine and the Blue Bird; Karapetyan made a pretty muscular avian, but he and Parrondo shared an intriguing, teasing vibe - she was seemingly all frail temptation, he all languid power.  Together they brought an intriguing note of exoticism to this grand paean to innocence regained.

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