December 18, 2018

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The power of goodness

RWB production of popular fairy tale a crowd-pleaser

Simeon Rusnak</p><p>Josh Reynolds (centre) brings a larger-than-life theatricality in the role of spiky-crowned Carabosse, conjuring the flamboyance of former RWB dancer Darren Anderson in the same role.</p></p>

Simeon Rusnak

Josh Reynolds (centre) brings a larger-than-life theatricality in the role of spiky-crowned Carabosse, conjuring the flamboyance of former RWB dancer Darren Anderson in the same role.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/3/2018 (291 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s penultimate production in its year-long “season of storytelling,” The Sleeping Beauty, is not only one of the prettiest ballets in its classical repertoire, but also serves as a timely reminder of the power of goodness in times of darkness.

Last staged here in May 2013, the lush and romantic story choreographed in 1890 by Marius Petipa tells the tale of delicate Princess Aurora, doomed by wicked fairy Carabosse to die after pricking her finger on a spindle on her 16th birthday. The arch-fairy’s counterfoil, the all-powerful Lilac Fairy, steps in to soften the spell, having her only slumber for 100 years until awakened by Prince Désiré’s tender kiss.

The five-show production that opened Wednesday night and first premièred by the 78-year-old troupe in March 2002 features lighting by Michael J. Whitfield, lavish costumes by Shannon Lovelace and Anne Armit, with opulent sets and property design by Michael Eagan. Earl Stafford, who served as music director/principal conductor for the RWB between 1984 and 2008, marks his return to the company’s orchestra pit, leading the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra through Tchaikovsky’s sweeping score with gusto.

Principal dancer Sophia Lee exuded regal bearing as Lilac Fairy, her innate musicality and lyricism always creating the impression that she floats through her intricate choreography, executed with benevolent grace.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/3/2018 (291 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s penultimate production in its year-long "season of storytelling," The Sleeping Beauty, is not only one of the prettiest ballets in its classical repertoire, but also serves as a timely reminder of the power of goodness in times of darkness.

Last staged here in May 2013, the lush and romantic story choreographed in 1890 by Marius Petipa tells the tale of delicate Princess Aurora, doomed by wicked fairy Carabosse to die after pricking her finger on a spindle on her 16th birthday. The arch-fairy’s counterfoil, the all-powerful Lilac Fairy, steps in to soften the spell, having her only slumber for 100 years until awakened by Prince Désiré’s tender kiss.

The five-show production that opened Wednesday night and first premièred by the 78-year-old troupe in March 2002 features lighting by Michael J. Whitfield, lavish costumes by Shannon Lovelace and Anne Armit, with opulent sets and property design by Michael Eagan. Earl Stafford, who served as music director/principal conductor for the RWB between 1984 and 2008, marks his return to the company’s orchestra pit, leading the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra through Tchaikovsky’s sweeping score with gusto.

Principal dancer Sophia Lee exuded regal bearing as Lilac Fairy, her innate musicality and lyricism always creating the impression that she floats through her intricate choreography, executed with benevolent grace.

Her entourage of five fairy godmothers to baby Aurora, each given their own solo, brought sparkle to the stage during the christening scene, with soloist Yayoi Ban’s Candide, the Fairy of Tenderness a particular highlight, as well as her later, glittering portrayal as the Fairy of Diamonds in the third act. Corps de ballet member Yoshiko Kamikusa also threw sparks as Fee Violente, the Fairy of Bravery, as did soloist Alanna McAdie’s high-spirited, mischievous Canari.

Second soloist Chenxin Liu debut role as Princess Aurora blossomed before our very eyes, confidently morphing from innocent ingénue who shyly peeps at her parents during her 16th birthday celebrations, to a woman deeply in love who performs a climactic grand pas de deux with her dashing Prince in the third act.

Her flawlessly controlled performance during the famous Rose Adagio — one of the most technically challenging solos in the classical repertoire that has tested the mettle of ballerinas for 128 years — in which her four strapping, prospective suitors attempt to woo her with roses and clasp her hand as she balances precariously on one toe displayed her long lines, and rock steady pointe work.

Principal dancer Dmitri Dovgoselets, as Prince Désiré, does not appear until the top of the second act. But when he does, this powerhouse did not disappoint with his trademark propulsive leaps.

Simeon Rusnak</p></p>

Simeon Rusnak

Charismatic corps de ballet members Saeka Shirai and Yue Shi also delivered a dazzling Bluebird Pas de Deux, that proved their status as up-and-comers, including Shi’s athletic, gravity-defying leaps and Shirai’s spot-on pirouettes, as well as their easy partnership.

Principal dancer Jo-Ann Sundermeier (glowingly pregnant with real-life husband, soloist Josh Reynolds) showed aptly maternal pride as the Queen, while RWB ballet master and former principal dancer Jaime Vargas as her King make every minute of their non-dancing character roles count with broad sweeps of their arms and expressive acting skills propelling the narrative forward.

Reynolds is given the delicious role of spiky-crowned Carabosse, who arrives in a chariot complete with pyrotechnics and six flailing horrors that leap, tumble and scowl through their own athletic choreography. The dancer’s larger-than-life theatricality (albeit at times more gracefully balletic than hellishly inspired) conjures the flamboyance in this role of former RWB dancer Darren Anderson, who left big ballet slippers to fill in 2008.

The lilting Garland Waltz performed by 20 RWB School Professional Division students as the young villagers holding festive baskets and boughs, rounded out by corps de ballet members, added youthful energy.

One of the ballet’s charming — if not vaguely surreal — highlights, has always been seeing the storybook characters suddenly pop up during the third act divertissement.

However, the good-natured catfight between Puss in Boots (Sarah Davey) and the White Cat (Stephan Azulay), each furiously pawing at each other and licking their "wounds," and Little Red Riding Hood (Alanna McAdie) being chased by the furry Wolf (Liam Caines) subtly — and gently — reinforces the goodness versus evil underpinning of the entire ballet, making us both laugh and cry in the best way that art does.

There’s a lot — repeat, a lot — of dancing in this 145-minute production and viewer fatigue begins to set in after the two-hour mark.

Audiences always seem to collectively pick up on this energy and so the mostly older crowd members remained mostly in their seats until the lead dancers took their final curtain call. But rise they eventually did with a standing ovation and approving cheers.

The production continues through Sunday at the Centennial Concert Hall. For tickets or further information, visit: rwb.org.

holly.harris@shaw.ca

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