MUSIC AND DANCE : ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Cast Changes Demonstrate What a Difference a Dancer Makes
American Ballet Theatre recently ended its run of “The Sleeping Beauty” at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, packed up the sets and costumes and put the production back to sleep . . . if not for a hundred years, at least until March when the company opens its spring season at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.
But memories of the dancers linger.
During the local run, The Times sent reviewers to cover the five different Auroras in the ballet, and this puzzled some people.
Don’t they all dance the same steps? people asked. So why review each one?
Of course, theatergoers accept the fact that Sir Laurence Olivier’s interpretation of Hamlet differed from Sir John Gielgud’s, and that both were worth seeing.
But Gielgud and Olivier spoke the same lines, didn’t they?
On the other hand, local concertgoers were not likely to mistake Stravinsky’s “Firebird” Suite performed by the raucous Pacific Symphony with that played by the sublime Orchestre de la Suisse Romande.
But both orchestras played the same notes, didn’t they?
So what about the dancers?
Did they do the same steps or not?
Well . . . yes and no.
Of course, each had to meet the same formidable technical demands.
In the Rose Adagio, for instance, Aurora has to execute a series of supported turns while balancing on one foot. There is no possibility of fakery or gimmickry here. The dancer cannot hide behind smiles or projected personality. Either she has the technique or she doesn’t. Either she maintains her balance or she doesn’t. Either each turn is perfect or it’s not.
But how she executes these and other steps is open to a wide range of possibilities. They can be sharp, crisp, quick and clear, or lyric, broad, slow and full, or anywhere in between. They can start in one way and end in another. And each way will prove interesting in different degrees.
Even beyond the technical aspects, “Sleeping Beauty” is a story ballet. And that sets up additional requirements.
The story is the familiar fairy tale of a young girl struck down on her 16th birthday by a wicked fairy and revived a hundred years later by a handsome prince.
The ballet evokes specific characters in a specific setting and requires that the characters react to each other convincingly. And it was in these dramatic requirements that major differences among the ABT Auroras became so clear.
Amanda McKerrow, who perhaps comes closest to being the most ideally proportioned dancer of the principals in this role, breezed through the court without responding to other people, took the roses given to her as if they were her due and tossed them away as if they had no meaning for her.
When she pricked her finger on the spindle, she seemed only startled by momentary pain and fell quickly into the long sleep without inspiring any sympathy for her.
Cheryl Yeager made a vivacious, lithe Aurora, dancing with lightness, precision and strength, registering shock and dizziness but only sketching the outlines of a real character.
Susan Jaffe created a gracious, shy Aurora, lyric and brilliant in line but also withheld expressively, though her attempts to reassure her friends that she was not grievously hurt after pricking her finger were dramatically promising.
Christine Dunhan, who was making her debut in the role, was injured during the first act and could not continue in the ballet. So she was not reviewed.
It was Martine van Hamel who most convincingly created the young Aurora, not only in her youthfulness but in her radiant personality. She reacted to everyone, she beamed at being the object of four suitors, she took the roses as if receiving each man’s heart.
So when this Aurora pricked her finger and felt what only Van Hamel projected as the chill of death, you were heartbroken.
Of course, there is irony in the fact that the 42-year-old Van Hamel was able to evoke a sense of budding youth, when the other Auroras, all under 30, could not. One hopes that the company will mine the resources this important dancer has to offer.
Meanwhile, her dancing was a reminder of what we all go to “The Sleeping Beauty” for, what we look for and so often don’t find. And it’s more than to see a dancer who can get her leg up to her ear.