Boston Ballet’s sublime Sleeping Beauty like a sumptuous impressionist painting

Liza Vol, courtesy of Boston Ballet
Liza Vol, courtesy of Boston Ballet /

There was a time when the trend with Sleeping Beauty was to shorten them “get to the meat” of the ballet. It was as if some modern choreographers—such as New York City Ballet’s Peter Martins’ version—want to speed through the action and cut to the chaise, the glorious wedding celebration.

But there’s something to be said for taking your time and reveling in the spectacle of classical ballet. This is the approach that the late, great Frederick Ashton took when he re-staged Marius Petipa’s great classic, The Sleeping Beauty in 1946 for the Royal Ballet. What transpired was a celebration of the English style of quintessential classical ballet, a production so elegantly conceived that it put the ballet company on the map. This sumptuous production was luckily inherited by the Boston Ballet and it’s no wonder that it’s a staple production that they turn to every few years or so.

Why mess with perfection?

But it’s not just about the serenity of movement, The Sleeping Beauty has plenty to be excited about.

The opening night performance with Ji Young Chae as Princess Aurora and Jeffrey Cirio as Prince Desire left an enthralling impression. The ballet clocked in at about three hours and it didn’t feel like it. Chae found shades of nuance in the challenging Rose Adagio in the first act, exuding joy while maintaining those breathtaking balances with each of her suitors. She was serene during the second act vision scene with the Lilac Fairy and positively glorious during the celebratory wedding pas de deux. The audience on the night I saw her responded rapturously. You could even say that she was destined to play Aurora.

The challenge of the role is that it can be portrayed with just a simple focus on sticking to the technique of the choreography, but in the case of Ji Young Chae, she intertwined the development of her character into the finely tuned gradations of intricate choreography that illustrated her journey. Jeffrey Cirio matched her at each turn, complimenting her variations with elegant skills of his own. Between the two of them, they brought out the fascinating English style of Ashton’s brilliant landscape.

What makes The Sleeping Beauty—especially Ashton’s version—the essential ballet is the nods to the history of the art form itself. There’s plenty of ballet pantomime on display, executed with dramatic flair by Carabosse, the original Maleficent. Chyrstyn Fentroy expressed outrage at being left off the guest list—and cursing the fair Aurora—with aplomb. Considering that this version of Maleficent/Carabosse made the pointed black horns famous, all movie versions hence owe a lot to the Royal Ballet’s original production.

In addition to Viktorina Kapitonova’s Lilac Fairy, all the guests during the wedding festivities executed their solos and pas de Deux and pas de trois in the excellent form of the Bluebird and Princess Florine, Puss in Boots and the White Cat, and Red Riding Hood and the Wolf.

Boston Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty production is sublime and is only playing at the Citizens Bank Opera House until June 4. If you miss this production, however, take heart that the company is bringing back another Frederick Ashton creation, Cinderella, which is an absolute masterpiece.

Next. My Fair Lady, the classic tale in a modern interpretation. dark