THE Sleeping Beauty endures not only as a sparkling fairy tale filled with charming storybook characters, but also a beloved classic ballet that speaks to the transcendent power of goodness.
The Royal Winnipeg Ballet's lavish new production opened Wednesday night for a five-show run through Sunday. First staged by the company in 1992, its current incarnation is choreographed by Galina Yordanova, and features opulent new sets by Michael Eagan, sumptuous costumes by Shannon Lovelace and Anne Armit, and is crisply lit by Michael J. Whitfield.
Tadeusz Biernacki led the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra through Tchaikovsky's soaring score with the 145-minute production staged by Johnny W. Chang. The original, three-act ballet with prologue based on Charles Perrault's story by the same name received its Russian world premiere in 1890.
In a nutshell, the romantic story ballet tells the tale of delicate Princess Aurora, who is doomed by wicked fairy Carabosse to prick her finger on a spindle on her 16th birthday. Her antithesis, the powerful Lilac Fairy, softens the spell by having her fall asleep for only 100 years, woken only by the dashing Prince Désiré's kiss. When he discovers her, order in the kingdom is restored, they marry and all live happily after.
There is much that is beautiful about this spectacular production. Principal dancer Jo-Ann Sundermeier's strong portrayal as Princess Aurora (also played by principal Amanda Green in alternate shows) begins her emotional trajectory as a 16-year old ingénue, balancing precipitously en pointe during the famous Act I Rose Adagio that showcases her bravura technique and steely concentration. Her expressive face radiated joy at her birthday party until she fatefully falls into slumber, her trembling fear palpable as she collapses on stage.
Her regal bearing during the final climactic Grand Pas de Deux performed with Oleksii Potomkin's Prince Désiré (a role shared with Dmitri Dovgoselets) completed her heroine's journey from young teenager to mature princess.
The charismatic Sophia Lee (in a role shared by Serena Sandford) owns the stage every time she appears. This rising star imbued her benevolent Lilac Fairy with natural grace and sophistication, with her gorgeous port de bras and strongly lyrical lines particularly during her Act I solo variation evoking a young Karen Kain. Her entourage of attendant fairies were strong and sure, with Yayoi Ezawa's (Lee, in alternating shows) Fairy of Bravery a particular highlight.
The Garland Waltz liltingly rendered by 19 RWB School Professional Division students holding festive baskets and boughs added youthful energy to the show. Another pleasure was seeing veteran principal dancer Vanessa Lawson and John Kaminski as Princess Aurora's attentive royal parents.
One of the most delicious roles in the show is the evil Carabosse, portrayed by a sneering Amar Dhaliwal (Thiago Dos Santos, in alternating shows) en travesti. Arriving on a chariot flanked by leaping minions right out of hell, she immediately made it clear this was no fairy to tangle with as she placed her curse on the young princess. Her dark powers were so potent that even the set pieces malfunctioned during her first pyrotechnic exit.
During Act II's grand divertissement, the stage springs to life with fairytale characters: Puss in Boots, The White Cat, Little Red Riding Hood and a ferocious Wolf, whose sparring with each other mirror in microcosm the good-versus-evil theme that underpins the ballet. The fetching Blue Bird Pas de Deux showcased Dovgoselets' (Yosuke Mino) exploding leaps with his partner, Elizabeth Lamont's (Alanna McAdie) spinning pirouettes matching him wing for wing.
Nearly 125 years after its premiere, The Sleeping Beauty still enchants with its archetypal characters as the ultimate rescue fantasy. But more than that, its timeless message of hope -- even in a forgotten kingdom, far, far away -- continues to resonate as one worthy of all our dreams.
The Sleeping Beauty
Royal Winnipeg Ballet
Through March 10
Centennial Concert Hall
Four stars out of five