Kansas City Ballet’s “The Sleeping Beauty” is an education in classical ballet in one of the most beloved works of the 19th and 20th centuries. Elegance and opulence framed a classic fairy tale of a beautiful cursed princess and her rescuer in the company premiere on Friday night in the Muriel Kauffman Theater.
Artistic director Devon Carney choreographed this version in 2010 for Cincinnati Ballet, based on Marius Petipa’s original 1890 concept to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s score. Peter Farmer’s design of set and costumes created a sumptuous, nostalgic grounding for the fantasy, especially the gorgeous gold, orange and ivory costumes of Act III, cast against a burgundy tromp-l’oeil grand hall. Ramona Pansegrau conducted the Kansas City Symphony in a competent performance that, while featuring good soloists, exhibited far too many mistakes in important moments.
The principal and featured dancers were tremendous. Tempe Ostergren, as Aurora, exuded charm and sophistication, strength and tenacity in a challenging role, paired with Lamin Pereira dos Santos as the Prince. Their partnering was finely tuned, receptive and lyrical, Pereira gracious and muscular.
The evil Carabosse, a delightfully wicked Danielle Bausinger in one of the most interesting performances, was the only character with any raw emotion, her entrance indicated by a flash of lightning. Supported by scaly, skulled-headed attendants, she was vindictive and imperious, but not ugly, though specific lighting (designed by Trad A. Burns) gave her skin a green hue.
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Kaleena Burks was the merciful Lilac Fairy, and the rest of the fairies were sweetly portrayed by Angelina Sansone, Elysa Hotchkiss, Kelsey Hellebuyck, Amanda DeVenuta and Taryn Mejia.
Act III’s pas de trois was splendid, as were the variations for Princess Florine and the Blue Bird, while the Cats earned the only full audience chuckle.
Mime, a traditional and integral component, was successful to varying degrees. The garland waltz, with children, was well designed, while other large group scenes seemed squashed, with too many extra bodies in the background, distracting from the primary performers in this huge cast.
Though pleasant to watch, with great dancing, the ballet is ludicrous. The 19th-century music resonates, those incredible 19th-century costumes evoke opulence, but what is the relevance of a 19th-century mentality? Keep classical form, keep classical steps, keep elegance, keep athleticism, keep the glittery tiaras and get rid of a concept that the woman needs to be either saved or sacrificed. And maybe stop all the nonsense where creepers go into women’s bedrooms and kiss them on the mouth without consent, no matter what the overly manipulative Lilac Fairy you met in a vision in the gloomy woods told you to do. That testimony will not hold up in court.
So far, with “Swan Lake” and “Giselle,” Carney’s agenda of programming classical works, all premieres for this company, has worked. Why? Because those ballets have soul. The main characters have … character. There is love and beauty — and loss and fear and longing and lust and betrayal and anger — all those emotions that Aurora is not allowed to have.
While, yes, the fairies’ gifts were nice, were they thoughtful? Beauty is pleasant to behold, but it’s objective. Charm useful, but also a learned trait. She can afford to be generous, she’s the richest girl around. Temperament, geez — are we condoning that a women is only acceptable if she’s pleasant and doesn’t cause a fuss? And song? That’s a weird gift for a mute gal. Why not gift her an analytical brain, a good pitching arm, money management skills or thick skin. You know what she could have used? Acute eyesight. The spindle was sticking out of the bouquet by half of a foot and yet she still managed to prick her finger.
This ballet is beautiful and impressive, but to be pretty with no purpose does not serve and further the art form. It is important for the company, and for the culture of the dance community, too, to have this seminal work performed locally for its athleticism, style and classical form, not for this story. If you want an education, you’ll get one. If you want a meaningful love story, look elsewhere.
If you go
“Sleeping Beauty” will show 7:30 p.m. April 1, 6, 7 & 8 and 2 p.m. April 2, 8 & 9. Muriel Kauffman Theatre, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $35.50-$135.50. 816-931-8993 or kcballet.org.