Mon, Mar 30, 2009 - Page 13 News List

[THE WEEKENDER] Mariinsky ballet stages sublime ‘Sleeping Beauty’

By Diane Baker  /  STAFF REPORTER

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I was all set to see prima ballerina Diana Vishneva as Princess Aurora in Mariinsky Theater Ballet Company’ Sleeping Beauty on Friday night at the National Theater but the fates were against us. Vishneva was ill/injured, forcing a readjustment of the cast lists.

First soloist Anastasia Kolegova, after a somewhat unsteady start, was everything a fairy-tale princess ballerina should be: beautiful, sparkling and light, with flawless 180-degree extensions. As her prince, Evgeny Ivanchenko didn’t really have all that much to do, but he was nobly grand all the same.

The most memorable were those in the supporting roles. Prima ballerina Irma Nioradze was captivating as the Lilac Fairy. Islom Baimuradow was pure slime as the evil Carabosse Fairy; he simply oozed wickedness. And Aleksey Timofev stole the wedding party divertissements as the Bluebird. He was only on stage for a few minutes in the final act, but he made every minute, every jump, every turn, count.

The other scene stealers were the local youngsters recruited for the garland dance at the beginning of Act One. Ranging in age from 6 or so up to 12, clad in blond wigs, they were incredible cute, but also performed well. Eight additional, slightly older youngsters played the part of court musicians. All 24 were handpicked by Taipei Royal Ballet director Wu Ching-yin, who trained them for more than a month before a Mariinsky balletmaster arrived to do the final coaching.

LAVISH SETS

The Sleeping Beauty sets were extraordinary, especially the huge silver filigree and flower gates to Sleeping Beauty’s kingdom. You knew you were in for a magical evening as soon you saw the gates. The autumnal glade in the opening of Act Two was a symphony of russet reds and golds, the perfect setting the 18th-century court ladies and gentlemen. And the forest that grows up behind the castle gates looked so realistic that one friend swore he thought the branches were moving.

The costumes were equally amazing. Almost everyone aside from the two leads was bewigged, with long, curly hairstyles for the men, and corkscrew clusters of curls for the women. It’s hard to imagine any company besides the Mariinsky would have the resources to restage a ballet with this degree of detail.

The one weakness was in the storytelling. The mime that moves the stories along — in Sleeping Beauty, Carabosse’s cursing Aurora to die an early death from a pricked finger, or the king’s banning of all needles from the court — are pretty sketchy. Ballet mime can look silly, but it is an essential component for the narrative classics, even more so when performing in countries that don’t have a history of Western fairy tales.

VIRTUAL REALITY

Saturday night at the National Concert Hall was all about new worlds — and the wonderful mind of Austrian digital artist/choreographer Klaus Obermaier.

His Le Sacre du Printemps — Interactive 3D Media Dance had dancer Julia Mach moving around a box set to the side of the orchestra as her avatar danced on the screen suspended above the heads of the National Symphony Orchestra, and thanks to 3D glasses, out into the space above the audience. One woman in front of me reached out to try and touch Mach’s hand as it floated toward her.

With her cap of white-blonde hair, pale skin and champagne-colored shift, Mach was both a goddess and the perfect sacrificial victim for Sacre. Her long legs and arms morphed into even longer tentacles, or kept her balanced as she rode a grid through waves and earthquake rolls. Sometimes she moved as if playing a solitary game of twister, but then the fun ended as she crawled on her knees and elbows, one arm stretching out into space in a mute appeal for help. When her virtual world exploded, her avatar was left curled up in tight ball amid a swirling asteroid belt — until you realize that each asteroid was a small curled Mach.

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