Pictured: Dancers Emily Mistretta and Joshua Bodden. Photography: Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios.
Review: SLEEPING BEAUTY at Kansas City Ballet
By Bec Pennington
You’ll see it in the lobby every night.
They took ballet, they’ll say; they started when they were 2, 3, 4… but they didn’t see it through, they wanted to do something else, they moved on in life. There’s a wistful look on half the faces.
They’re dressed to the nines, often in tulle skirts, and ribbon-tied shoes, subtly reflecting what they expect to see. They’ve come to vicariously live the dream.
They want to relate to the performers on stage, and feel a part of the night’s events, but make no mistake, they also want to be astonished. They have come for a magic show.
Ballet, as we all know somewhere in the more practical recesses, is extremely difficult. Unlike other athletic feats, we as an audience want to believe in the moment that it’s not hard. We want to be convinced for the most part that, if given the right shoes and a fancy costume, we could make a go at this ourselves. But then we see a feat that is certainly out of even our fantastical grasp, and it still looks effortless – then we are convinced the dancers are gods, as surely no earthly creature is capable of such things.
It doesn’t change, by the way, after you’ve chosen your path and gone through the extensive training and performed the same pieces for others. Dancers still want to be awed and inspired when we go to see the ballet. We still want to see the impossible look easy.
So what happens when it doesn’t? Perhaps I was in the minority Saturday night, but SLEEPING BEAUTY looked like a challenge. Time after time, I felt I was watching someone reach their limit and push through – a noble reaction to pressure, but I don’t want to know the struggle. I don’t want to listen to a singer and hope they hit the high notes, and I don’t want to grip my seat during a double tour en l’air.
Kauffman stage is perfect for this ballet, with nice depth and nary a bad seat in the house. The scenery was simple and gorgeous, the lighting flawless, all the cues were on (and if they weren’t, bravo to the technical team, because it looked like a well-oiled machine). As far as Tchaikovsky’s score, the KC Symphony did it justice. So why, oh why, were we pounded with the jarring thuds and knocks of hard pointe shoes hitting the stage? Is it the surface? Should something be done, should the symphony play louder? This is just not something that should be heard on the professional stage.
I’ll be honest, KCB’s costumes have never impressed me. I wish for a more judicious use of lamé, and fairies should look like, well, fairies. Why on earth did the Bluebirds’ colors clash? Carabosse was really well-costumed, though, as well as the Prince, and my companion for the night adored the Lilac Fairy’s simple but ethereal tutu.
Standouts: The Garland Waltz – oh, if there is a crown jewel in this production, this has got to be it. I felt like I was transported to a lush garden, alive in a warm breeze. The scene’s palette, the formations, the lighting, and the backdrops were pretty much perfect, and the dancers carried the choreography quite well. The most polished performance of the night was Puss in Boots, a piece that I’ve always disliked, fully redeemed by excellent dancers with impeccable comedic timing, Amanda DeVenuta & Charles Martin. This is another place where the costuming was well executed. Across the board, the port de bras on every dancer was uniform and utterly graceful and specifically, Elysa Hotchkiss (Lilac Fairy) had exquisite gesturing and carriage. Liang Fu (Prince Désiré) also had beautiful expression and strong dancing. The Pas de Trois in Act III were nicely in sync; this was probably the most energetic offering of the night.
Unfortunately, Molly Wagner (Aurora) looked a bit tired. She braved through quite well, but I hope it was simply an off night for her, as there were a couple of stumbles and the polish was not there. The choreography for this ballet is tweaked by every director who gets their hands on it, but the core steps have been established for a long time and are recognized in the dance world for their high level of difficulty. I felt for the dancers as they worked to deliver a fair performance, but it often appeared heavier than it should. Still, the crowd responded enthusiastically.
Kansas City is enjoying our resurgence in the arts, and the audience is there and rooting for it in full force. I have no doubts of the upward trajectory of this company; Kansas City Ballet is on its way to achieving a top level premiere status. The seats in Kauffman last night were peopled with those equally convinced. If last night deserved its standing ovation, what will we do with ourselves when they get to world class?
THE SLEEPING BEAUTY runs through April 9th. For more information visit kcballet.org.