Superb Dancing Highlights Boston Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty

By Mary Hierholzer

 Paulo Arrais and Misa Kuranaga in Marius Petipa's The Sleeping Beauty; photo by Liza Voll, courtesy Boston Ballet  

Paulo Arrais and Misa Kuranaga in Marius Petipa's The Sleeping Beauty; photo by Liza Voll, courtesy Boston Ballet

Boston Ballet’s premiere dancers lit the stage for an enjoyable opening night of The Sleeping Beauty last week. The company is one weekend into their four-week run of this ultra-classical ballet choreographed by Marius Petipa and Frederick Ashton, set to Tchaikovsky’s famous score, telling the tale of fairies, royals, Aurora and her prince.

As Aurora, Principal Misa Kuranaga’s performance was exceptional. Impossibly light, she floated effortlessly, and her technique was flawless. Her skill contributed to a wonderful Rose Adage, where Ms. Kuranaga earned rapturous applause for her balances. She captured Aurora’s sweet youth delightfully, giving depth to the role with maturity in the concluding Act III wedding. She partnered wonderfully with the bold, powerful Principal Paulo Arrais; it was wonderful to have him back onstage with Ms. Kuranaga after injury.

Soloists Ji Young Chae and Junxiong Zhao’s performance as the Bluebird and Princess Florine were one of the greatest highlights of the night. Like Ms. Kuranaga, Mr. Zhao dances with incredibly lightness, perfect for the role. He lingered in the air for what felt like eternity, and executed the famous brisé sequence with fluidity, height and ease; it felt like he would never touch the ground again. Likewise, Ms. Chae performed with excellent character and skill, steady and confident in her complex choreography. The two were a perfect fit for their roles.

As the Lilac Fairy, Principal Dusty Button brought great authority to the stage through her elongated figure and poise. Playing an essential role in storytelling, she communicated clearly and danced her pieces with elegance. Opposite her as the villainous Carabosse, Principal Dancer Erica Cornejo was vibrant, menacing and commanding. They created a perfectly atmospheric contrast.

I enjoyed Second Soloists Addie Tapp and Lauren Herfindahl with Soloist Patrick Yocum in the Act III Pas de Trois—together and individually, they were precise and elegant. The White Cat and Puss’n Boots (danced by Soloist Rie Ichikawa and Corps de Ballet Dancer Lawrence Rines) were a huge success with the crowd—especially the many delighted children roaring with laughter at the cats’ satirically sharp, spot-on mannerisms.

 Ji Young Chae and Junxiong Zhao in Marius Petipa's The Sleeping Beauty; photo by Liza Voll, courtesy Boston Ballet

Ji Young Chae and Junxiong Zhao in Marius Petipa's The Sleeping Beauty; photo by Liza Voll, courtesy Boston Ballet

The five prologue fairies danced their solos very well, with strong character (Soloist Rachele Buriassi brought a particularly compelling drama to the Crystal Fountain Fairy’s dance). However, they and the fairy attendants attempted to appear ethereal through solemn expressions, which translated as unenthusiastic boredom; the stage needed more energy through emotion.

Being so classical and regal, the endless structured dances grow slightly mundane and wearying at times; and though the music is by Tchaikovsky with some iconic and triumphant pieces, the music doesn’t quite compare to his other ballet masterpieces, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. The staging was beautiful overall, but the set and lighting, though regal, rich and colorful, were a touch too dark; the heavy tone made it difficult to see dancers’ faces.

And the choreography did not always fulfill the sweeping score—the famous Act I waltz would have benefitted from partnering and more variation to its structure; the climactic action of Act II when the Lilac Fairy banishes Carabosse was in fact anti-climactic, especially compared to the exciting face-off in Swan Lake. Instead of being a valiant hero at the peak of the music, the Prince merely wandered around the dark castle trying to figure out how to wake up his princess.

And speaking of the men—this ballet lacks good choreography for the male dancers. The Prologue fairy cavaliers have one nice but brief piece (led magnificently by Soloist Paul Craig), but altogether, the male solo dancers have only a few pieces to dance. For the most part, this ballet is all about the ladies—which is lovely, to be sure, but monochromatic.

The Sleeping Beauty is a wildly popular ballet, frequently performed by ballet companies worldwide, and it’s no surprise why—it’s a romantic, whimsical fairytale with a beautiful classical score. Altogether, Boston Ballet’s production, highlighted by superb dancing, is a wonderful testament to The Sleeping Beauty’s legacy.

Boston Ballet will perform The Sleeping Beauty at the Boston Opera House through May 27. For tickets and show times, visit the Boston Ballet webage. The company will also perform their final program of the season, Robbins/The Concert, May 5–27.