Topflight Fairies

The Sleeping Beauty at the Yacobson Theatre

On October 29 (the birthday of the Komsomol, incidentally), the Leonid Yacobson Ballet Theatre (headed by Andrian Fadeev) showcased its premiere of The Sleeping Beauty at the Bolshoi Drama Theatre. The production had been staged by Jean-Guillaume Bart, Parisian to the bone. OLGA FEDORCHENKO reports her impressions of this youthfulness-packed show.

During the Soviet period, major opera and ballet theatres were fond of putting on the so-called 'productions for the youth', where the main roles were given to performers without a storied stage career, which made the inevitable generation change smooth and relatively painless. Andrian Fadeev's ballet troupe, by contrast, does not have to face this challenge yet: physically, its soloists are still young and energetic; but creatively, they are already reaching maturity, with its natural urge to test their merit in something different than the choreographic experiments that lie at the heart of their Theatre. Something grand, something classical, something dramatic. And The Sleeping Beauty is perfectly in tune with the ambitious plans hatched by the Theatre's management. This ambition has only been bolstered by the invitation of a guest star: Jean-Guillaume Bart, Parisian to the bone. Danseur Etoile at the Opéra National de Paris, tutor and ballet master, winner of all ballet awards imaginable, Monsieur Bart nurses a feeling of tenderest affection towards the academic repertoire from the second half of the 19th century: his portfolio includes The Stream, staged in Paris, and Le Corsaire (The Corsair) in Yekaterinburg. When setting out to work on The Sleeping Beauty, the choreographer forewarned everyone that he was not looking for a provocation, but had the intention of 'sprucing up tradition' nonetheless.

And tradition has been spruced up, in an exceedingly unobtrusive way. Marius Petipa's academic rendition (as revised by Konstantin Sergeev) has served as a sturdy foundation for the new show, which Monsieur Bart has sprinkled with some modern views on magic and the supernatural, very much in the spirit of the upcoming Halloween. While the core plot of the age-old fairytale remains unaltered, the accents added by the choreographer sometimes turn the legend of the Sleeping Beauty into some sort of ballet version of the Maleficent movie, or maybe even the dances of Tolkien's elves. The ballet has a prologue: a mimed prequel of sorts, illustrating the conflict between Ring Florestan and Carabosse. Though, to be frank, the illustration is rather murky: the king orders Carabosse to leave the stage, and his guards impale her on their pikes in a way that brings back memories of the way Spartacus dies in Grigorovich's ballet. But the libretto booklet merely claims that 'many years ago', Florestan 'invaded Carabosse's homeland and drove her out into exile'. Either way, Aurora's dad is definitely not without sin. You don't even have to reach too deep to find parallels between Carabosse and Maleficent: their similarity is so glaringly obvious that they might as well have been sisters, and members of the wicked fairy's entourage all bear horns like Angelina Jolie in the movie. Some plot additions are downright cute, like the upbeat show of diversity: Aurora's hand in marriage is sought after by suitors from France, China, the Middle East (some oil well owner, most likely), and, of course, by a guest from the mysterious and far-off Muscovy, who almost breaks his spine in deep bows, but refuses to take off his furry hat. While Désiré's courtiers include a most curious duo, referred in the libretto as 'the Count and Countess' and looking as if they have sprung straight from the pages of Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos.

In the hands of the Leonid Yacobson Theatre, the most French ballet in the Russian academic repertoire, which, ironically, is a bit prudish sensuality-wise, has suddenly brightened up with sparks of flirtation, jealousy, adultery, and borderline sinful fantasies. Bart's changes to the libretto have given The Sleeping Beauty a truly French charm and a sweet, voluptuous languor. The best scenes in the show are probably the fairy ensemble in the prologue and the vision Désiré has of Aurora in the second act. The fairies dance as a harmonious, hypnotic whole, entrancing the audience with myrrh-like warmth and a sensation of bliss. The vision, in turn, also has a more subtle emotional impact: the princess's friends, who used to appear as Nereids (mermaid-like sea-dwellers), have transformed into Dryads. Or rather, whimsical elves, with Aurora as their Galadriel-like leader. Together, they lure the love-starved Désiré into their enchanted forest, beckoning, teasing, and fanning the flame of his passion. The choreographer utilises the abilities of the Theatre's rather small corps de ballet with surprising ingenuity. He shuffles the Dryads together like a master magician, making the fours turn into threes and scattering them boldly across the entire expanse of the stage, so that it takes the viewer a while to realise that the troupe is a tad short on ballerinas. Which makes it all the sadder that the first-act waltz is such a flop: it only involves six duos, which is far from enough for academic ballet. Marius Petipa could afford to have one half of the corps de ballet hold their balance for ages and ages, while involving the other performers in a complex background scene, with children, extras, garlands, and baskets. But the understaffed Leonid Yacobson Theatre has turned this part of the show into, well, a bit of a sham. Six pairs of dancers shuffling about with wretched little garlands cannot possibly imitate the 16 duos from the adult corps de ballet and 12 duos from the junior corps de ballet needed for this scene. The new show's Garland Waltz has shrunk the luxuriously verdant Versailles-esque garden into a concrete-stifled courtyard with wilting trees planted in buckets. Unfortunately, the troupe's technical resources are simply not enough to stage the majestic faerie ballet extravaganza promised on the billboards: during the famous panoramic scene, the boat glides across the stage in clouds of acrid smoke that causes joint outbursts of coughing all over the auditorium.

The Leonid Yacobson dancers are trying very hard to prove that they, too, can handle topflight classics: after all, most of them are alumni of the paragon of academic tradition, the Vaganova Russian Ballet Academy (though not all of them graduated with honours). Alla Bocharova and Andrey Sorokin (known to the audience from the first season of the Bolshoi Ballet project) do not seem to experience any notable difficulties, with Miss Bocharova showing a lot of zest in her incredibly challenging rose adagio, where she freezes for a moment in a regal stance before extending her hand to her next male partner. The pas de deux from the last act is a real joy: without any over-the-top leg-throwing up to your ear, but rather with dainty little motions that reveal the dignity of high-born royalty. Mr. Sorokin has made good use of all the diverse variations given to him by Mr. Bart, making an especially favourable impression with his noiseless landings. Darya Elmakova (the Lilac Fairy) will be guaranteed to win any fairy beauty pageant. And last but not least, The Sleeping Beauty has gotten the world acquainted with the undeniably brilliant Andrey Gudyma, who appears in two notable cameos. During the dress rehearsal, he was the bloodthirsty Big Bad Wolf, turning his scene into a thrilling mini-slasher. And during the premiere, he kept drawing the audience's gaze to himself as Catalabutte — a skilful courtier who, in our day, would have made an inimitable press secretary, capable of making the populace see profound meaning in the tiniest eyebrow waggle of the high and mighty.

Olga Fedorchenko

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