January 25, 2014

Moscow Festival Ballet stages a lethargic ‘Sleeping Beauty’

Lackluster isn't a word normally associated with Russian ballet. But that's an apt description of The Moscow Festival Ballet's performance on Friday night, part of the normally excellent Harriman-Jewell Series. Before a nearly packed house at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, the company gave a surprisingly tepid version of the much-beloved story ballet The Sleeping Beauty.

Lackluster isn’t a word normally associated with Russian ballet. But that’s an apt description of the Moscow Festival Ballet’s performance on Friday night, part of the usually excellent Harriman-Jewell Series.

Before an almost packed house at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, the company gave a surprisingly tepid performance of the much-beloved

“The Sleeping Beauty”

The show was extraordinarily average.

The production values were pretty enough. The costumes were rich with silks, satins, brocades and hats festooned with pink ostrich feathers. There were baubles and sequins galore. The sets were effective, but nothing spectacular — almost minimalist, with a few benches along the wings and painted backdrops indicating a palace or the forest.

The problem was tame, occasionally sloppy, dancing. Russian ballet is famed for precise synchronization. Every limb is expected to be in a perfect line. Too frequently on Friday, that wasn’t the case. Little miscues and tiny stumbles cropped up every few minutes. It wasn’t disastrous, but it was disappointing.

Dynamism was sorely lacking. Jumps should be a surprise. Too often one could see dancers gathering themselves before each leap. Musicality was a major problem. Dancers must move with the music, feel it. Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s lavish score seemed almost like an afterthought.

Worst, this was a show without risk. Dance is supposed to be a little dangerous. Here, every lift and dip seemed rote. Some gestures seemed like self-parody, as though the dancers were students who had just gone though a growth spurt and not yet regained full control of their longer, stronger bodies. Marius Petipa’s famed choreography seemed tame, dumbed down somehow.

Perhaps this was a function of the company being accustomed to smaller stages than the expansive Muriel Kauffman Theatre, but the dancers felt small, swallowed by the scenery.

There were bright spots. Fairy Carabosse, played by Alexander Daev, brought vivacity to Act 1.

Things picked up considerably in Act 2 with solos from Konstantin Marikin, playing Prince Désiré. Marikin mercifully brought what the rest of the dancers didn’t. At last, there was fire onstage. He entered from the wing with power. He attacked each leap. He flowed with the music, seeming to feel the score and express it.

The final act, at the wedding scene, had flickers of life as well. The parade of fairy tale characters brought much-needed whimsy, but it was too little, too late.

The audience, perhaps spoiled by the Kansas City Ballet’s often more polished performances, met the show with halfhearted applause. After seeing this lusterless version of “The Sleeping Beauty,” it seems that a ballet from KC can outshine one from Moscow.

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