Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Sleeping Ugly

July 24, 2007

Photo: ABT 2007
I don’t attend a lot of dance events, and when a friend of mine offered me free tickets to see the American Ballet Theater in Orange County I said why not. Of course, I wasn’t banking on the program including the company’s new and unbelievably saccharine production of The Sleeping Beauty. Needless to say, the audience, largely composed of 8 and 9 year-old girls in their princess/fairy/ballerina costumes, did create an unusual circumstance where virtually every member of the audience could have immediately substituted for everyone on stage. Actually this isn't true in that none of these children could dance so well as the cast members and most of them weighed twice as much.

Yet, as the psychological underpinnings of tomorrow's eating disorders were being firmly implanted, I couldn't help but wonder. I mean, you’d never see so many children at a classical concert or an opera in a million years. (At least not one that wasn't specifically marketed to them.) I get the whole young-girl ballerina fantasy thing, but I feel like it must be more than that. How has ballet continued to manage this sort of cultural relevance to a group of young people? Are there no 8-year old girls who want to grow up to be Renee Fleming?

Of course the saddest part was how little there was for all these young-girls to look at. I was originally going to describe the program's unbearable sweetness as akin to a Disney film, but then realized how unfair that would be. Even the worst Disney films usually include some dark material or undercurrent to balance the material. ABTs Sleeping Beauty makes Finding Nemo look like Dancer in the Dark. The individual performances were certainly technically proficient and athletic. And while there is certainly beauty in this, I would hardly describe the overall choreography as graceful. This was a group project between Kevin McKenzie, Gelsey Kirkland, and Michael Chernov based on the work of Marius Petipa, and it appears something was lost with all of these cooks in the kitchen. The moral of this story: I should probably get a chance to see more dance events than I do.

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