Dance Review: PNB's The Sleeping Beauty

Tchaikovsky helps PNB strengthen its corps.

A good little League coach makes sure all the kids on the team get a chance to play in the big game. A good ballet company director faces the same task with The Sleeping Beauty, the premier example of 19th-century Russian classical style, which is packed with fiendishly difficult parts that all dancers vie for. It's not just the big game but the World Series, and Peter Boal has managed to get most of his company onstage during its run.Logistically, this is not a simple task. There are 22 significant roles to fill, and Pacific Northwest Ballet has cast up to five artists in some of them. For the women, Princess Aurora and the Lilac Fairy are among the most challenging parts in dance, demanding all the technical skill, strength, and articulation a ballerina can muster. Carla Körbes and Carrie Imler are trading both roles during this run. Körbes' Aurora glows with the pleasure of being a 16-year-old girl at her birthday party, both shy and curious about the young men who've come to pay her court. Later, that sweetness is tempered with confidence when she dances at her wedding celebration.Imler's innate strength gives both Aurora and the Lilac Fairy a sense of stability, a calm center from which she phrases her dancing. We can see her decisions about timing and accent applied to the Tchaikovsky score. Even in the midst of chaos, her Lilac Fairy is reassuring, not flighty.Among the men, the Prince must be suave and refined as well as strong. It isn't enough to pull off multiple turns—you have to begin and end them in perfect classical alignment. Lucien Postlewaite and Batkhurel Bold both have that powerful control; they can fly through a long series of jumping turns and still finish in a textbook position. Next, the short Bluebird duet is probably the hardest five minutes a man in ballet can perform. Almost all jumping, it needs an explosive energy, but with lightness and precision. Among PNB's five Bluebirds, veteran Jonathan Porretta has the most experience with the role, which shows clearly in his phrasing. He skims across the stage in a long series of traveling jumps that resolve in a photo-finish balance.Other small roles in The Sleeping Beauty are no less demanding. Choreographer Marius Petipa, who created the original 1890 production, loved to make little etudes for dancers: solos and duets that were a glossary of specific steps or phrases. For example, the fairies who attend Aurora's christening each have a specific "character" to represent—Joy flutters like a bird, while Wit's snappy hand gestures mimic the punch line of a joke. As Beauty, when Liora Reshef steps out into a solo, you really see the fluidity of her arm gestures, preening gently as she glides across the stage. These roles are stepping stones for younger ballerinas to approach the massive future challenge of Aurora or Lilac.This fine production, choreographed by Ronald Hynd in 1993, is a proven draw for PNB. It's also a proving ground for young talent. One of its pleasures is to come back season after season to see who's matured and developed into the next role. Since the 2001 premiere, for instance, Lesley Rausch has played a lady of the court, a friend of Aurora's, and several different fairies. This Sunday she'll make her debut as Aurora, probably the best Valentine she's ever received.dance@seattleweekly.com

 
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