Going into New York City Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty last Friday, I was mostly excited about the pair who would be dancing Aurora and Desire, Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle. Spoiler for the below review: they more than lived up to expectations. The production overall was quite enjoyable, but they were the highlight.
First off, this was Peter Martins’s choreography, obviously heavily after Petipa. There’s one section choreographed by Balanchine, the Garland Dance, which I’ll get to later. I was a little skeptical about doing Sleeping Beauty in two acts (there’s a lot of material), but the choice to split between Desire heading off to find Aurora and the awakening scene worked well, both in terms of narrative and length of the acts. The first act was, I think, longer, but it didn’t feel too long. Having only one intermission definitely made the ballet as a whole a reasonable length (2.5 hours or so), which is a plus for a ballet with a reputation for lasting forever.
I thought the sets, projections, and costumes were well done and set up the story well. My major complaint was that the projected palace seemed more manor-like than palatial. But there was a clear difference in the clothing of different groups of people and time periods of people, and the use of projections on the current showed the passing of time effectively.
Onto the dancing! The two fairies that stood out the most in the Christening scene were Indiana Woodward as the Fairy of Eloquence and Unity Phelan as the Fairy of Courage. Woodward’s bourrees were smooth and buzzing, and she was fluttery, bee-like, and captivating, everything this fairy should be. Phelan was also very in character, her movements sharp and pointing while never sacrificing her elegance and carriage.
Ashley Laracey danced the Lilac Fairy, and Rebecca Krohn danced Carabosse. I wanted more from both of them. Laracey was elegant and technically outstanding, but she didn’t show the warmth and goodness that I want from a Lilac Fairy, at least in the first act. Krohn’s Carabosse felt one-note, though her repeated enjoyment of the mime for death was a delight. (Sidenote: I found myself wondering what watching this is like for someone who hasn’t studied any mime. I’ve known the mime in this opening scene since I was five years old, so it feels like words to me. How easy is it to interpret for people who have never seen it before?)
The Cavaliers here had a more interesting part than I’d remembered; they had a few fun sequences of jumps. The Lilac Fairy’s Attendants also danced quite a bit, about four of the eight doubled as Maids of Honor in the next scene and again did a good deal of the dancing.
The beginning of the party scene, though, was the Garland Dance. This featured thirty-two Garland Dance Villagers (16 women, 16 men) and sixteen children (girls, ages 11-13 I’d guess?). In case you’re wondering, forty-eight people is a lot, so there’s not much large individual movement here. This did feel very Balanchine and stood out from the rest of the choreography by virtue of that. Couples held each end of garland arches, and the most interesting parts for me were those in which the two members of the couple moved independently, turning or doing small steps in place while keeping the garland arch mostly steady.
But this scene is Aurora’s party, and it really is all about Tiler Peck. Obviously she’s an impeccable dancer (I have flailed over her here before), but all her technical skill really shows in Sleeping Beauty in this scene, the Vision scene, and the Wedding Grand Pas. Her balances in the Rose Adagio were flawless, but what stuck with me the most were the turning releve grand developpes. They were huge and light and controlled. Throughout the scene, Peck was joyful, and it felt like Aurora was giving all of herself. Peck didn’t quite feel young, but she was charming and bright. This was the sort of dancing that made me think maybe Peck wouldn’t be my favorite Juliet but that someday I need to see her dance the first act of Giselle. That instinct to want to see her Giselle was even more confirmed by a particularly well-execute stumble in her “death” scene.
Tiler Peck has to dance three different but related characters here — all Aurora, but Aurora through quite different lenses. There is the Aurora full of life at her party, sixteen years old and charming everyone. There is the Aurora of Desire’s vision, something not quite real, far away, tempting without being seductive. And then there is the Aurora of the Wedding, an Aurora who has grown (without having lived; don’t think about this too hard) into elegance and regality, if not quite majesty (I’ll get to that).
Normally I’d say the vision scene isn’t really my thing (white ballet is beautiful but not my favorite), but I thought the effect here was good. It felt very much like a dream and was costumed well. Throughout the hunting party and vision scene, Tyler Angle’s acting as Prince Desire was spot on. I was only a few rows back at this performance (far closer than I normally sit), and it let me see Angle’s facial expressions really clearly. His “in love” face felt particularly right. Jenelle Manzi as the Countess also gets acting props; she was delightfully frustrated with everything.
Just one comment on the awakening scene — I really wish Carabosse had a more dramatic death here. Oh, and the way the scenery worked with the brambles and bushes rotating up and out of the way was clever.
And finally, the wedding divertissements. Jewels was well done, and Ashly Isaacs and Brittany Pollack as Ruby and Emerald particularly stood out to me. The White Cat and Puss in Boots divertissement mostly makes me uncomfortable, but that’s true in most choreographies. Lauren King and Troy Schumacher individually performed well as Princess Florine and the Bluebird; King was bright and inviting, and while Schumacher didn’t fly, he achieved moments of suspension. Their partnering, however, left much to be desired. It seemed like Schumacher was too short to partner King effectively, and there were lots of bobbles. Martins casts a child as Little Red Riding Hood, which was cute but meant that divertissement was largely running around stage with some (exaggerated) acting. Antonio Carmena, Harrison Coll, and Ghaleb Kayali were excellent as the jesters, flying and turning.
I enjoyed Ashley Laracey here in the final scene more than I did in the first scene. Here she’s less meant to be the warm, gentle fairy who saves the day, and it’s really about her elegance. Her arms were gorgeous.
Tiler Peck and Tyler Angle work so well together. I’ve never seen fish dives so smooth and quick. They’re far faster than they are in the videos of the two of them from the 2013 production, so these two have definitely improved (and they were quite good then!). Their timing together is impeccable, and that chemistry and ease between Peck and Angle really made me believe in Aurora and Desire as a couple despite the story giving no reason to do so. Angle doesn’t fly in his part of the grand pas, but he is powerful, and Peck is elegant and captivating, filling every part of the music.
However, while I found the two of them regal, I didn’t find them majestic. There wasn’t that sense of utter awe about them. That’s not a comment on the quality of their technique but rather on how it felt like Peck and Angle approached the parts. They’re still young (err, only kind of in Aurora’s case, but let’s go with it) and celebrating their wedding. They have dignity but not grandeur.
That’s part of why I found it disconcerting that they were crowned at the end. Aurora’s parents are present and seem to have no reason for abdication, and throughout the Wedding Grand Pas, Peck and Angle felt like princess and prince, not king and queen. The coronation makes for a beautiful ending tableau, but it muddled the story.