Washington ballet’s vibrant ‘Sleeping Beauty’ is Julie Kent’s parting gift
The production showcases bravura dancing that captures the enchantment in the story, the beloved tale of a princess waked from a spell by a lovestruck prince. But recognizable amid the dazzle are intimate emotion, humor and vulnerability: Princess Aurora affectionately resting her cheek on Prince Désiré’s shoulder. The White Cat’s flirtatious swats at Puss-in-Boots. The way the wicked Fairy Carabosse briefly parodies the quivery hand gestures of a good fairy, the mockery amounting to a burst of very human spite.
Still, the movement-as-enchantment dimension dominated on opening night, thanks to the virtuosic dancing in the divertissement-filled Act III, Aurora and Désiré’s wedding celebration. Of particular note, Rench Soriano’s Bluebird seemed to hover in the air on his jumps. And Alexa Torres’s Princess Florine, the Bluebird’s partner, inscribed each movement with joyousness and clean classical lines, infused with a hint of avian fluttering.
They were eye-catching figures amid Act III’s soaring palace-hall set, which epitomizes the exuberance of this production’s scenic design, by Alain Vaes. (The scenery and gorgeous costumes are courtesy of Salt Lake City’s Ballet West.)
As Aurora, Ayano Kimura lacked the buoyancy of Florine and the Bluebird, but she did convey an innocent excitement suiting the character. In Act I’s famous Rose Adagio sequence, in which the princess, on her 16th birthday, clasps and releases the hands of several suitors while balancing on pointe on one leg, this Aurora’s air of determination was apt. Exhibiting some effort in pulling off this feat, she might have been saying, “Look what I can do now that I’m old enough!”
With such a go-getter as heir to the throne, it’s no wonder the villagers are celebrating with a handsome garland dance, their movements deftly surging on the music’s upswings, their horseshoe-shaped wreaths undulating. Here, and throughout, Tchaikovsky’s score sounded tuneful and expressive, if not recording worthy, at the hands of the Washington Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Charles Barker.
The garland dance was just one of the nice sequences highlighting ensembles and throngs: courtiers and nymphs; christening, birthday and nuptial invitees; the attendants of the Lilac Fairy (an able, if not scintillating Adelaide Clauss); and more. When Désiré (a confident Masanori Takiguchi) breaks away from his hunting party in Act II and dances alone meditatively, his solitude is poignantly startling.
A loner in a more existential sense is Carabosse (Nicholas Cowden, oozing delightful malevolence), whose petulance at not being invited to Aurora’s christening sets the whole narrative in motion. Indeed, this ballet offers an important takeaway: When throwing a big shindig, always employ a top-notch event planner attuned to guest-list detail.
“The Sleeping Beauty,” which wraps up the Washington Ballet’s 2022-2023 season, is the final offering under the artistic direction of Kent, who is leaving the company after seven years to join the leadership of Houston Ballet. Of the bouquets brought onstage during the curtain call, the most elaborate one deservedly went to her.
The Washington Ballet performs “The Sleeping Beauty” at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater through Sunday, with cast changes. Choreography after Marius Petipa; additional choreography and staging by Julie Kent and Victor Barbee. About 140 minutes. $25-$150. washingtonballet.org.