By R.M. Campbell
Pacific Northwest Ballet waited nearly three decades before mounting “Sleeping Beauty.” “Nutcracker,” “Swan Lake,” “Coppelia,” A Midsummer Night’s Dream” all preceded it. There was wisdom in waiting. If “Swan Lake,” in 1981, was a stretch for the company, “Sleeping Beauty” would have been a disaster. There is no challenge like this monumental ballet with its many roles scattered over three hours. Depth and breadth are mandatory.
In 2001, Kent Stowell and Francia Russell, artistic directors then, took the leap and mounted a “Sleeping Beauty” in a production designed by Peter Docherty and choreographed by Ronald Hynd after Marius Petipa. It was originally set on English National Ballet in 1993 to celebrate the centenary of Tchaikovsky’s death. The production was based on the Royal Ballet’s version in 1946, which Hynd and his wife Annette Page knew closely. For all of its connections to Russia, it is essentially an English-bred, genteel concoction.
Its first revival in nine years opened this weekend at McCaw Hall and is scheduled to run through Feb. 14. Before the curtain went up on opening night, most performances were heavily sold. Story ballets have been in short supply in the recent past, and people are hungry for narrative. However critical some will be about the lack of finesse in details and sense of duty over artistry in others, most people will adore Docherty’s very, very pretty decor and costumes. It evokes beauty and luxury in conventional, not imaginative terms. For a town with no “Sleeping Beauty” in its history, this is a good introduction. One sees the entire company plus about two dozen talented students from the PNB School. There is much excellent dancing.
Act III is full of remarkable dancing. Carrie Imler in the Gold and Silver Pas De Trois was smooth and crystalline in her steps. Lesley Rausch and Jordan Pacitti (He danced separate roles in three acts and Prologue well.) were witty and charming, as were Leanne Duge and Barry Kerollis as Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. Mara Vinson is a dancer of considerable resources which she brought to life in the Bluebird Pas de Deux, but Jonathan Porretta commanded the stage. Arguably he has the finest technique among PNB male dancers, but he has also learned since his arrival in Seattle 11 years ago to put that formidable technique to artistic purposes. He can be absolutely astonishing.
The PNB Orchestra was not in good shape, Could their rehearsals have been cut short? How is that possible in service of Tchaikovsky’s great score? I have never heard so many mistakes in the winds, awkward transitions, sloppy ensemble, etc. It was embarrassing. The one really good thing was to hear the orchestra’s new concertmaster, Michael Jinsoo Lim, in that gorgeous solo Tchaikovsky so kindly provided. What a great addition to the orchestra.