FORGET THE PRINCESSES and fancy costumes: The tiaras and "happily ever after" are just frosting on a very substantial cake in Pacific Northwest Ballet's production of The Sleeping Beauty (Mercer Arts Arena, through Sunday, June 8, 206-292-ARTS).
The ballet may follow the Perrault story, but at its heart, this classic is about geometry and manners, the rigorous physics of the movement, and the complex behaviors of the period when they were created. The performers are courtly athletes, and the world they inhabit requires both skill and style. PNB uses almost every dancer it has in this production, as well as a contingent from its school, but the production doesn't look stressed about it: The corps dances cleanly, wheeling through the shifting patterns of the choreography like a cross between a drill team and the Lipizzaner stallions.
The soloist roles, many of them multicast, are also well served. Mara Vinson's crisp attack as the Fairy of Wit is a powerful contrast to Jodie Thomas' fluttering Joy in the first act, and both Le Yin and Jonathan Poretta make excellent Bluebirds, a role in which a dancer jumps more in two minutes than others do in a whole ballet. Ariana Lallone as the Lilac Fairy is suitably gracious, even during a grueling series of relev鳼/I> to what may be the most luscious part of the Tschaikovsky score.
Timothy Lynch and Olivier Wevers share the role of Carabosse, the Wicked Fairy. Lynch, who will retire from dancing after these performances, does a fine job of making clear the abstract sign language of the mime sequences. But Wevers, sneering luxuriously at one person only to snap back to someone else, brings extra detail to the picturewhen he kisses the snake he's using to threaten a courtier, it makes your skin crawl
While the role of Aurora, the titular beauty, doesn't require the acting skills of Swan Lake or Giselle, it's a mistake to think a dancer can get by on technique alone. Patricia Barker, who is a formidable dancer, seems to recognize that challenge. She softens her attack and her phrasing, so that she flows along with the movement rather than dominating it: Previously she shone in the more virtuosic last act, but now she is a convincing young girl as well. Noelani Pantastico, a soloist who has been working steadily toward leading roles, blends any debut jitters she may have had into her turn as Aurora, blushing sweetly at all the attention.
PNB has been promoting Beauty to families, but even after making cuts to its 2001 production, the show runs just under three hoursa long evening in the theater for children. There are some odd glitches as well: Too much fuss during Aurora's entrance in the prologue makes it hard to see her; several dancers bow to the Queen during the last act, but no one bows to the King; and the King and the majordomo seem to share the same pair of knee-high gold lam頢oots. Nevertheless, this Beauty is beautiful indeed. It would be a mistake to think it's just another fairy tale.