PNB’s “Sleeping Beauty” Ensconced at McCaw

PaKaori Nakamura (center) as Princess Aurora falls into a deep slumber after pricking her finger on a cursed spindle in Ronald Hynd’s The Sleeping Beauty. Photo Angela Sterling.

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.

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3 thoughts on “PNB’s “Sleeping Beauty” Ensconced at McCaw

  1. Richard –
    While I enjoyed Nakamura’s Aurora, it was not well danced throughout. In the Rose Adagio she had great ending balances, but the first couple had a bit of an ankle wobble. And then there were the botched fish dives in the final act. Once I saw the first one go bad, I knew the other two would be worse. This is a particularly hard move as the male has only his left arm to grab the ballerina’s torso, push it forward into the fish while almost simultaneously rocking back to provide the final support and pose. More rehearsal needed here. Nakamura was well served by her prince as he struggled to keep her from hitting the stage floor.

    So, all in all, not as transcendent a Sleeping Beauty as you describe. Couldn’t agree more about the orchestra. And Porretta is really something. I’m glad he’s gotten control over this stage lighting smile, best not to employ the kleig lights all the time.

    Great to run into you in the lobby on Thursday and to have found this web site.

    Cheers, Jon

  2. May I be picky? You reviewed (very positively) performances of PNB’s Sleeping Beauty for the P-I in June 2003 (highlighting Noelani Pantastico’s debut as Aurora) and again in April 2006. So you slipped up here in saying that the current offering is the ‘first revival in nine years.’ This is the fourth time in a decade that we’ve had the pleasure of seeing PNB’s production. (And it is, of course, the Lilac, not Lyric, Fairy.)
    On the basis of last Saturday’s matinee performance (highlighted by Carla Korbes’s wonderful debut as Aurora, and Karel Cruz’s as the Prince), I’d have to agree with your negative comments about the orchestra: the problems you noted were still not completely fixed. More happily, however, the playing of the violin solo was a gorgeous as you said.

  3. Interesting… I was at the Feb. 12 performance. The orchestra was wonderful- maybe since this was one of the last performances, the weeks of live practice has served them well. I agree that Carla Korbes is a treat to watch, and I wish that I had the opportunity to see her as Aurora- While Ms. Nakamura is technically a wonderful dancer, I didn’t get the innocence and passion I would have expected of a 16 year old princess. I also felt that she and Lucien Postlewaite, while each are spectacular in their own way, had the chemistry of tap water- do you suppose they were tired of each other by then? To be honest, the excitement and poetry I was looking for didn’t come until the final act in the Bluebird Pas de Duex- dynamic and wonderful!

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