Just Right

Ronald Hynd's Sleeping Beauty blends tradition with delight.

Goldilocks would revel in Pacific Northwest Ballet's current offering. Everything about it is just right: length, scale, tone, attack, as perfectly fitted to its performers as a Balenciaga ball gown yet as unaffected and airy as a maiden's muslins.

Everything, that is, presuming you love ballet. Love it. Sleeping Beauty is the pure uncut stuff. It contains no thought, no doubt, no moral; it's pure pleasurable physical sensation conveyed through ear and eye directly to the body like sensuous massage, bypassing the brain and the better for it. This means that people who have to have something constantly happening, who think that story ballet means plot and tension and romance, are never really going to get Sleeping Beauty. It's as devoid of drama as a Tiffany Easter egg, but much more enjoyable to spend three and a half hours with.

Ronald Hynd's version of this 116- year-old evergreen is true to choreographer Marius Petipa's grand prologue-and-three-act structure while slimming it from czarist extravagance to svelte 21st-century proportions. Tchaikovsky's original score runs nearly three hours without the three intermissions called for, and nobody, not even the Kirov Ballet, performs every note of it today. But there's so little story to be conveyed that huge cuts can be made without feeling the loss, first in the recurrent processionals that serve mainly to show off costumes on a cast of nearly 100, then, more delicately, by removing a pas here, a duet there—lovely in themselves but existing more to placate a company with eight, count 'em eight, competing ballerinas on staff than to satisfy even the original noble audience. A lot of purely symphonic music can go, too, along with the obligatory stage magic and scenic surprises demanded of 1890s musical theater.

The result is amplitude without excess: enough pretty people in pretty clothes to dress the scene; enough of Tchaikovsky's endlessly inventive score, vigorously and idiomatically led by Stewart Kershaw, to delight without surfeit; above all, enough pure dancing to set off the company's dancers without exhausting them (the czar's troupe didn't have to perform the piece 10 times over 11 days).

Five Princess Auroras and five Prince Florimunds will perform during PNB's run of Sleeping Beauty, not to mention four Lilac Fairies and four pairs of Bluebirds, so reviewing a single performance is more unfair to the company than usual. I can only plead their indulgence and plunge on to try to convey my delight with those I saw. Carrie Imler, elsewhere one of the Auroras, danced the Lilac Fairy on Thursday, and the slight touch of no- nonsense busy little bee that always tinges her performances is the perfect antidote to the slightly marzipan texture of the role. Jodie Thomas and Jonathan Porretta made a perfectly matched pair of Bluebirds, dancing with bravura but without a single superfluous flutter to mar their lovely line. Carla Körbes blazed as suddenly and briefly as a meteor in the gold-and-silver trio with Anton Pankevitch and Lucien Postlewaite.

But for all the pleasures of its spectacle, the power of Sleeping Beauty depends finally on its Prince and Princess, and on Thursday, Olivier Wevers and Kaori Nakamura nailed the roles. Wevers, with his polish and manly grace, was born to play Florimund, and he's got the technique to make the character's few opportunities to take center stage pay off. Nakamura is no shrinking violet of an Aurora. She clearly revels in her birthday party as much as anyone else, and even as a vision, she has a completely engaging solidity—this woman takes charge even under an evil spell. The couple's final pas de deux was brilliant and energetic, maybe a little low on delicacy and romance, but hey, you want delicacy and romance, wait for Swan Lake to come around again.

Wevers and Nakamura capture the spirit of the whole cast and production: a zesty, full-on delight in returning, after a season full of novel technical stretches, to the centuries-old traditions of movement that are the heart of ballet. This is no serviceable, dutiful reproduction of a classic. It makes me think of William Blake's profound insight: "The cistern contains; the fountain overflows."


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