Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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More Lessons Learned

July 18, 2010

Gillian Murphy in Sleeping Beauty
Photo: Rosalie O'Connor

American Ballet Theater returned to Los Angeles over the past weekend with their mummified production of Sleeping Beauty. Considering how much I disliked this production the last time it was out this way in 2007, I’m not sure what I was thinking about when I ponied up for a second viewing. Actually, I take that back. I know exactly what it was – principal dance Marcelo Gomes. Like men throughout history, though, I sat through the opening performance on Thursday again being taught the difference between the thought process above the waist versus its alternative. Not to say that Gomes was a disappointment. He wasn’t at all making a supremely graceful Prince Désiré. His hawtness goes without saying, of course, and as my companion for the evening said, I could watch him dance all day long.

And he wasn’t the only one worth seeing. Michele Wiles, who portrayed the Lilac Fairy was quite good. Gillian Murphy played the Princess Aurora and she brings a decided athleticism to the show. But for all her bracing stage presence, she often looked to be working a little harder than one might like. She was fun to watch, but definitely not lighter than air at several points. Of course, the dilapidated fairy tale production just looks sad. The pyrotechnics around the entrance and exit of Carabosse elicited some oohs and aahs, but that was about as heated as things got. There was a live orchestra conducted by Charles Barker, and it is undoubtedly true that live is always superior to prerecorded music. Still this was about as limp sounding as a Tchaikovsky score gets, which did nothing for the dreary antiquated staging. ABT certainly has the resources and talent to put on a big and thrilling spectacle. Why they continue to trot this out, however, remains a mystery to me.

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I went Friday (for hunkalicious David Hallberg) and Sunday (to see the Hot New Ballerina, Veronika Part). Hallberg was excellent but I thought the whole thing was a little tired and routine.

Today, however, with Part and Cory Stearns, it came to life, they were both really terrific. The production, as you note, isn't very good, and it seemed as if it was really cramped on the Dot stage (I think it was originally done for the Met stage).

The orchestra sounded better today too; on Thursday, the brass only approximated pitch some of the time.

Next year, ABT is bringing Shostakovich's Bright Stream, I love this description I found:

The libretto, by Adrian Piotrovsky and Fyodor Lopukhov, tells the story of the members of a Russian farm collective in the 1930’s and their humorous interactions with a group of visiting performers during the harvest festival
The Bolshoi brought Bright Stream to Orange County a few years ago. I'm happy for the opportunity to see it again. The score is light and kind of silly -- as if Shostakovich were chanelling Adam or Minkus rather than Delibes or Tchaikovsky.

The Alexei Ratmansky staging and choreography follow the original scenario but are otherwise all new (since the original was suppressed by the regime). Ratmansky takes I think the correct line (as they used to say) in approaching Soviet propaganda pieces -- he goes all the way with it. So even though a comic ballet about a bountiful harvest at a collective farm in the early 1930s could come across as a kind of sick joke, he fills the stage with so much bountiful-harvest imagery that the effect becomes lightly ironic, rather in keeping with the score. All right, we know what happened in Ukraine in the winter of 1932-33, but for the moment let's pretend.

Also, Ratmansky is a genius at ballet mime and narrative. I recall laughing out loud as the question is asked in mime: "Do you have any children?" -- probably a first for classical ballet.

To see Bright Stream in the same year as Moskva Cheryomushki is a great opportunity to become more familiar with an aspect of Shostakovich's work that we normally never hear. He thought a professional composer should be able to write any kind of music -- hence also his many film scores.
Thanks for your post, I'll definitely check out the Shostakovich when it comes here next year.
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