Dell Hall at the Long Center, 701 W. Riverside
Is it fair to program The Sleeping Beauty, arguably the most technically difficult ballet in the classical repertoire, on a company whose dancers shine most brightly in neoclassical and contemporary work? Tutus and white tights are the fluorescent lights of ballet, beaming harsh light on every less-than-ideal proportion, broken line, and compromise of aplomb. To add insult to injury, Beauty's pure classicism and symmetry are glaringly matter-of-fact foils for anything less. There are no 32 fouettés in Beauty, but the ballerina must, for example, move through a slow vignette of arabesques and attitudes – in which she must use supreme control to glide in and out of each pose – to solo cello.
Aara Krumpe, as Princess Aurora in the cast I saw, did fine in that section, but much of the ballet was a display of minimum qualifications. Is it fair to promise audiences an astonishing display of classical artistry and then allow them to worry whether the soloists are going to make it through? And for those whose memories of Aurora's entrance are already etched with the effervescent split-legged pas de chats of renowned ballerinas, how could Krumpe's plain ol' everyday pas de chats not be a letdown?
And yet I was thankful to have had those bubbly pas de chats and their legendary performers called to mind. And yet the corps de ballet did a bang-up job, and Oren Porterfield and Ian J. Bethany shone in a near-flawless and inspired Bluebird pas de deux. And yet of all yets, Jaime Lynn Witts absolutely defined the role of Lilac Fairy.
This was the first time I'd seen Beauty in its entirety since becoming a parent, and I found a deeper understanding of Lilac. What a dear figment, this benevolent temperer of any serious troubles that might befall your children! Witts' expansive port de bras and generous arabesques cast a calming spell, embodying Lilac's lullaby-like theme in Tchaikovsky's score, invoked beautifully from the Austin Symphony Orchestra by conductor Peter Bay.
One of several oddities in designer Peter Farner's costumes (on loan, as was the scenery, from Cincinnati Ballet) seemed almost a commentary: Lilac's tiara was the smallest of all the fairies', but who needs rhinestones when you have hundreds of years of technique, artistry, and fairy tales inside you? At the close of Act I, as Lilac hushed the royals and subjects asleep, designer Tony Tucci's lights fell to lavender and strips of moss crept downward from the flies, enveloping the kingdom. Perhaps it's selfish to say, but, for me, Witts' Lilac and this moment were worth all the performance's trepidations.
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