“The Sleeping Beauty truly is the best ballet,” Ib Andersen writes in the program notes for Ballet Arizona’s production of the classic ballet, which runs through Sunday, February 14, at Phoenix Symphony Hall.
“The Nutcracker is good, Swan Lake is good, but The Sleeping Beauty is the ultimate classical ballet to me,” he goes on.
It’s tough to argue with that after seeing Ballet Arizona’s opening night performance on Thursday, February 11. Dancers delivered straight-up classical ballet infused with beautiful lyricism that channeled the innocence at the heart of the beloved fairy tale – in which a princess cursed at birth sleeps for 100 years until roused by her true love’s kiss.
A great classical ballet needs a good story, dance, and music. Ballet Arizona’s The Sleeping Beauty has all three.
This production, which runs about two and a half hours, features choreography by Marius Petipa and additional choreography by Andersen, who has served as the company's artistic director since 2000. It’s performed with technical precision, but still conveys an aura of softness.
It's especially evident during the prologue, in which five fairies attend the christening of the young princess, but also during the second act, when the corps de ballet dances during a vision of the sleeping beauty that precedes the fateful kiss.
On opening night, Natalia Magnicaballi’s gracious Lilac Fairy was the perfect counterpoint to Kenna Draxton’s grim Carabosse. Both strong dancers, physically and expressively, they beautifully embodied the battle of good and evil within this classic story.
Solos and Pas de Deux performed by Arianni Martin (Princess Aurora) and Nayon Iovino (Prince Désiré) grew fierce over time, mirroring the characters’ growing confidence as individuals and desires as a pair. Perfectly matched in movement quality, their performance during the scene in which Aurora awakens was the ballet's best moment.
But the whole ballet exudes charm, in part because it included performance by several students from The School of Ballet Arizona, who held the trailing trains on royal robes, sat holding small trees to dot the forest for a time, and carried silk pillows for fairies visiting the royal court.
Music is by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky is performed by the Phoenix Symphony, and conducted by Timothy Russell, who knows how to maximize every mood change in this music.
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There’s another element that amplifies the classical beauty of this piece: its scenery and costume designs by David Walker (courtesy of Boston Ballet). Consistent geometrics create a common thread of columns and arches for indoor castle and outdoor forest scenes, so settings are transformed without visually jarring the viewer. By contrast, the costumes, ranging from powder blue to bright orange-red, have a bit more bite.
Most enchanting visually were the forest scenes, filled with tall trees, hanging leave,s and moss — which cocooned the characters in their magical, fairy tale world. With lighting designed by Michael Korsch, the forest itself nearly became another character, sometimes dark and ominous, other times light and embracing. Often a small arched opening within the forest was lit with a bright oceanic blue, hinting at a world not inhabited by mortals.
Don’t go into The Sleeping Beauty expecting any earth-shattering twists. The story’s not broken, and it didn’t need fixing. But definitely keep it in mind if you’re ready for an evening of classic ballet free of melodrama and gimmicks.
Ballet Arizona performs The Sleeping Beauty with The Phoenix Symphony at Symphony Hall through Sunday, February 14. Tickets start at $25. For information or tickets, visit Ballet Arizona online or call the box office at 602-381-1096.