With The Sleeping Beauty, the debut production of Nashville Ballet’s 2017/2018 season, they prove once again you don’t necessarily have to be a true connoisseur of the arts to appreciate and enjoy a night at the ballet. But with only three performances (a Saturday matinee and evening performance and a Sunday matinee), you had better be on your toes, or you’ll miss the beauty of the ballet.
Composed by Pyotr (Peter) Tchaikovsky, as conceived by Ivan Vsevokozhsky, who based his vision on Charles Perrault’s fairy tale, La Belle au bois dormant, the ballet debuted at the Marinksy Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1890, with choreography by Marius Petipa.
In the century since, The Sleeping Beauty has gone on to become on of the most beloved ballets. I recently ran into Nashville Ballet’s Artistic Director and CEO, Paul Vasterling, who mirrored that sentiment by listening it, alongside Swan Lake and The Nutcracker as three of the most popular and well-known ballets. While attending an invitation-only preview performance during the company’s final dress rehearsal, my date for the evening and I also surmised that a large part of the story’s popularity should also hold gratitude towards Walt Disney and his cherished 1959 animated interpretation. There’s even a audible wink to Disney early in the piece when the Nashville Symphony Orchestra incorporates a recognizable few bars of Once Upon A Dream, better known to most as “Sleeping Beauty’s theme” from the animated classic, a song that was recently covered by Lana Del Ray for 2014’s Maleficent live-action film, proving once again…you don’t have to be a ballet snob to enjoy the ballet.
Because of the familiarity of the story, The Sleeping Beauty is easy to follow. The story unfolds as King Florestan and his Queen gather their loyal subjects in the castle to celebrate the christening of their newborn daughter, Princess Aurora. Nicolas Scheuer will be dancing the role of the King during both matinee performances with Judson Veach performing Saturday evening, while Emily Ireland-Buczek will be seen as the Queen during all three performances.
Among the most beloved characters in The Sleeping Beauty are the Fairy Godmothers. Aside from the King, Queen and baby Aurora, they are among the most honored guests at the party. During the party each of the five good fairies is featured in solo performances as they bestow their respective gifts upon the infant princess. Katie Vasilopoulos and Alexandra Meister share the role of the Lilac Fairy, the leader of the fairies. The Lilac Fairy’s Cavalier (that’s ballet speak for escort or partner) is danced by Nathan Young. The Fairy of Beauty is danced by Julia Eisen and Keenan McLaren Hartman, and her Cavalier, Brett Sjoblom. Fairy of Generosity is Julia Mitchell, her Cavalier, Christopher Stuart. Fairy of Song is Mollie Samson with Augusto Cezar as her Cavalier. Rounding out the fairies are Alexandera Meister and Daniella Zlatarev sharing duties as Fairy of Strength with Logan Hillman as her Cavalier. Each of the fairies’ routines garner cheers from a truly mesmerized audience.
Of course, like many fairy tales, the ever-present theme of good vs. evil is alive and well in The Sleeping Beauty. Upset because she wasn’t extended an invitation to the christening festivities, the wicked fairy, Carabosse crashes the party and unleashes an evil spell in which Aurora will prick her thumb on a rose’s thorn on her sixteenth birthday and will die. Interesting, the role of Carabosse is traditionally performed by a male dancer. Keeping true to tradition, Nashville Ballet has cast Jon Upleger in the role. With a face beat with make-up to rival any contestant of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Upleger’s Calaboose give a whole different meaning to Evil Queen. Fans of a certain wicked green meanie (I’m talking about The Wizard of Oz’s Elmira Gulch/Wicked Witch of the West) will delight not only in Carabosse’s green smoke method of transportation, but also in her attendants, who, thanks to sinister, yet surprisingly colorful costumes, land somewhere between Oz’s Flying Monkeys and The Crows from The Wiz.
Speaking of the costumes, for Nashville Ballet’s all-too-limited run of The Sleeping Beauty, it did seem quite the daunting task to create costumes for just three performances. To that end, the company gets to wear gorgeous creations by costumer Peter Cazet, courtesy of Ballet West.
The second scene, which takes place at Princess Aurora’s sixteenth birthday party features the young princess (Kayla Rowser during matinee performances and Sarah Cordia on Saturday evening) as she considers male suitors. Much like the female solos of the previous scene, Aurora’s sixteenth features young Princes who prance and dance in hopes of catching the Princess’ eye. Among her suitors are Logan Hillman, Christopher Stuart, Gerald Watson and Nathan Young. Each of the young suitors have their own playful style, but if I were to pick, I’d have to go with Watson, he approaches his courting with a little extra flair. I also have to admit, I made comparisons to the rose ceremony of TV’s The Bachelorette during this scene, as yes, each of the Princess’s potential mates presented her with a rose, which she unceremoniously tossed aside, revealing a bit of a rebellious nature. That action serves to remind the audience that even though her parents have warned her of the pending doom of Carabosse’s cure, Aurora still chooses to live a happy-go-lucky life.
Those familiar with the story know that all is not lost following Carabosse’s curse as The Lilac Fairy counters the curse with her own spell that simply puts the princess to sleep. Even so, when the evil fairy once again crashes the castle revelry, to present the Princess with a bouquet of roses, Princess Aurora does indeed fall into a deep sleep. The Lilac Fairy follows Princess Aurora’s processional waving her wand as she puts the entire kingdom to sleep and casts a spell that surrounds the castle grounds with a dense forrest until the spell can be broken.
Fast forwarding the action 100 year and the set and costumes reflect the dark sadness that has fallen upon the land just outside the castle. Instead of the vibrant pastels seen in the fairies tutus and the rich regal colors of the royal court, those who hadn’t befallen the curse are now wearing heavy velvet robes and dresses of earth-tone velvets. While perfectly conveying the somber mood, these costumes are indeed gorgeous. Prince Desire (Judson Veach during matinee performances, and Nicolas Scheuer, Saturday evening) is wandering the woods on a hunting expedition. He soon encounters The Lilac Fairy who shows him a vision of Princess Aurora deep inside the forrest. He sets out to find her and just like the fairy tale it is, awakens her from her slumber with true love’s kiss.
Act 3 concludes the story with yet another celebration for Princess Aurora, this time, as she weds Prince Desire. Literally a century before ABC and Disney decided to mash-up fairy tale characters in TV’s Once Upon A Time, Tchaikovsky and Vsevokozhsky basically patented the idea as they pay homage to other fairy tale characters by having this final party attended by the likes of Little Red Riding Hood, The Wolf, Puss in Boots, Beauty and the Beast and others. Again repeating ideals of the first two scenes, this scene also features playful solo and duet performances by the company. Once again, it’s Watson, this time, as Puss in Boots, alongside Lauren Terry as White Cat, who steal the scene with a purrrrfectly playful performance.
Paralleling the Fairies earlier gifts, the final scene also features members of the company as the regal couple’s future anniversaries represented by the dancers wearing costumes of Silver, Ruby, Sapphire, Silver and Gold. OK, I have to admit, I had to research Ruby and Sapphire…40th and 45th anniversary, respectively…who knew?
Just like that, the Princess and her Prince do indeed live happily ever after. If you want to live happily every after, I highly recommend you not depend upon your Fairy Godmother, but instead, CLICK HERE to purchase tickets to this limited run of Nashville Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty.
If you’ve enjoyed this review of The Sleeping Beauty, be sure and follow Nashville Ballet on social media by checking out their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Next up for Nashville Ballet, and just in time for Halloween, is a double-feature ballet of Lizzie Borden choreographed by Nashville Ballet CEO, Paul Vasterling paired with The Raven, based on Edgar Allen Poe‘s classic poem, as choreographed by company member Christopher Stuart. Lizzie Borden/The Raven will be presented October 26-28. CLICK HERE for tickets and details.
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