During the mid- 1990’s I served as Dance Editor for Showbusiness and wrote weekly dance reviews and reported on the dance scene in New York City

New York City Ballet

“Sleeping Beauty” (World Premiere)

By Stanley Siegel

May 8, 1991

Peter Martins’ extravagant new production of Sleeping Beauty crosses the boundary from art to spectacle. Devoid of subtlety, balance, and simplicity of form, the basic values of classicism, Maurice Petipa’s 19th-century masterwork could be retitled Princess Aurora Goes To Hollywood.

George Balanchine established the tradition of streamlined ballets. But Martins, Balanchine’s heir, doesn’t seem to share Balanchine’s genius for creating artistic depth through simplicity. Martins condenses the ballet’s length, abbreviating the original narrative in order to highlight dance value, but at the sacrifice of character and plot development.

Set to hurried tempi, Martins’ choreography synopsizes the opening variations to MTV-length-intervals and eliminates the pauses between them. By pacing his ballet at breakneck speed, MArtins plays to what he mistakenly assumes is the audience’s short attention span. One developed variation after another races past, lacking variety and accent. He presents simulations, rather than recreations of both Petipa’s exquisitely structured sequences and Balanchine’s modernized aesthetic. Where Balanchine’s Garland Dance, with its simple steps and elegantly woven patterns, adapted for this version, visually satisfies us, Martins’ rechoreographed divertissements, merely titillates. Even the Jewels Pas de Trois, his homage to Balanchine, and the Jester Dance, created in a canon for three, falls short by reverting to mere bravura technique.

Petipa’s vocabulary seems ill-suited for the style and training of the City Ballet dancers. Where Petipa’s pure classicism emphasizes the elegance and nobility of a fluid back and neck, exacted by precise arm and leg positions, City’s style accentuates speed and energy through movement rather than position. Martin’s hybrid version; Petipa’s steps danced with exaggerated or ill-defined arm, hand and leg movements, presents a mixed aesthetic and looks incongruous. The dancers seem most comfortable when performing Martins’ own neoclassical choreography.

Martin’s choice of Margaret Tracy and Damian Woetzel for the roles of Princess Aurora and Prince Desire seems fitting for his adaptation of this ballet; both effect the perfect Hollywood images. (There are five different casts.) An excellent virtuoso, Tracy measures up to promotion casino en ligne the technical demands of the difficult Rose Adagio. But for all her technique, her transparent self-absorption makes her portrayal of the sweet and innocent Aurora superficial and, therefore, unconvincing. Her character simply does not grow. The same hold true of Damian Woetzel. Although a vigorous and vibrant dancer, with polished technical abilities, he can’t get beyond his seeming indifference toward his character.

While Maria Calegari possesses the natural style and fluency for the role of Lilac Fairy, her lyrical dancing seemed strained by the quickened tempo of her variation, more tarantella than waltz. Lourdes Lopez, as the Fairy Carabosse, achieved the necessary intensity with enough subtlety to make the character believable. Kelly Cass brought rare elegance to the role of Princess Florine. In light of the handicap of Martins’ interpretation, their performances seem especially inspired.

David Mitchell’s lavish scenic designs: A massive cantaloupe and cobalt colored ballroom, a forest elaborately sculpted with brambles, Aurora’s bright crimson bed on which she takes her century-long slumber, enhance the grandeur of Martins’ production. But it is Mitchell’s simpler scrim projections, images that change to show the advancing of space or time, that make his most inventive contributions. The lush and imaginative costumes by Patricia Sipprodt, punctuate the production’s rich palette of color. When the pearl-encrusted ship stalled mid-stage and the Lilac Fairy’s tiara got snagged on a deadly bramble, breaking the rhythm of the ballet, the irony of Martins’ $2.8 million spectacle hit home.

Just when we think Martins has gone over the top with his Hollywood staging — Maria Calegari victoriously emerges from a fountain — he twists the story’s time-honored ending; the king and queen abdicate the throne. According to The New York Times, “The line of legitimacy is blatantly proclaimed here in the stage coronation. The line of succession runs from Petipa to Balanchine to the City Ballet’s dancers.”

Despite Martins’ choice to ignore the intent of Petipa’s and Tschaikovsky’s inspired collaboration, by emphasizing size rather than substance, future rather than heritage, theatrical thrills rather than artistic depth, he has received the uncritical support of New York’s established financial, artistic and journalistic communities. Given the quality of the production, this seems no less than a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes.