Tchaikovsky’s "Sleeping Beauty" is for everyone. With its superbly melodic score and Marius Petipa’s landmark 1890 choreography, it always has been an audience favorite, not to mention the apex of aspiration for dancers. The San Francisco Ballet’s run of the work (through March 4) is yet another revival of Helgi Tomasson’s 1990 centennial restaging, last seen in the Opera House six years ago.
As before, the most striking aspect of this production is the late Jens-Jacob Worsaae’s magically majestic costumes. It’s difficult to take your eyes off the enormous red and gold royal robes in the background (especially well worn by Jim Sohm as the Tsar), even if the real ballet action is front and center in plain old tutus and tights.
The crossover between luxurious (and, in this case, downright scary) costumes and dancing came with the black-clad, manic arrival of Parrish Maynard as the Fairy of Darkness. This really bad dude, who causes the title character to fall into deathly sleep just because he was not invited to her christening, danced up a mean, impressive storm.
(Courtesy photo/Eric Tomasson) Gorgeous costumes and brilliant performances shine in "Sleeping Beauty."
Standouts among the many roles in the nearly three-hour-long ballet’s countless divertissement were Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun’s effortlessly elegant Fairy of Tenderness (she danced true to her name), Chidozie Nzerem’s Siberian Prince, and the 18 participants in the Garland Dance — a great ensemble performance of precision and élan.
There was precision also, but no particular passion or tenderness, from Rachel Viselli, making her debut as Aurora in the title role, expressing no discernible feelings beyond the visible concern to succeed. She is a fine dancer, but on Sunday, she was all nerves and rigidity, unable to provide the vital core of the piece. And so, the many-splendored show offered a whole less than its considerable parts. (It is unfair to demand superhuman physical production, flawless technique and no showing of effort in a terribly difficult role, but that’s what ballet is all about: it requires the impossible.)
It was only in Act 2 on Sunday that the "It Moment" arrived, as Davit Karapetyan’s Prince took the stage. Without creating a particularly believable romantic character, he nevertheless danced with breathtaking ease and elegance, landing again and again with such feather-like smoothness and convincing security that finally (and justly) the audience crossed the great divide between applause and ovation.
At the matinee, Martin West and the Ballet Orchestra, playing so well this season, startled the audience with a big "boom!" and a Las Vegas-sized loud overture before settling down to a more proper volume, with too many rafter-shaking passages throughout. It was weird how Tchaikovsky sounded louder than in the excellently played Stravinsky "Firebird" on the previous program.
The next program, No. 4, opens March 13, with encore presentations of Paul Taylor’s "Spring Rounds" and Tomasson’s "Chi-Lin," as well as the U.S. premiere of Wayne McGregor’s "Eden/Eden."
Program 5 opens on March 15, with Christopher Wheeldon’s "Carousel (A Dance)," Jerome Robbins’ "Fancy Free," Tomasson’s "The Fifth Season" and Mark Morris’ "Pacific."
IF YOU GO
San Francisco Ballet’s "Sleeping Beauty"
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 28, 8 p.m. March 1 and March 2, 2 and 8 p.m. March 3, 2 p.m. March 4
Tickets: $10 to $205
Contact: (415) 865-2000 or www.sfballet.org