There is no better production of Tchaikovsky’s "Sleeping Beauty" to be seen than New York City Ballet’s current version.
And I don’t mean that it’s superior because American Ballet Theater is out on tour right now.
No, I mean that it’s simply better.
That was shown by City Ballet’s performance on Friday night -- as it will continue to be during the rest of the show’s run through next Sunday, Feb. 24.
Tchaikovsky’s first popular success among his ballets, "Sleeping Beauty" is very difficult to stage. The reasons for this are several. First, it exists in many variations, nearly all of which claim descent from Marius Petipa’s original Saint Petersburg Imperial Theater production of 1890.
Thus, any presenter must first figure out which "Sleeping Beauty" he’s doing. City’s choreography is credited to current Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins "after Marius Petipa" and with the Garland Dance of Balanchine included.
Martins’ version doesn’t aim for novelty or originality but it does expand upon Petipa to include more opportunity for virtuosic display. It’s also neat and efficient.
That last point is welcome.
After all, Petipa’s original version ran almost four hours, including intermissions. Hence, while it includes some of Tchaikovsky’s most sumptuous and romantic melodies, it would be too long for contemporary audiences even if the ballet had consistent drama.
Yet after Sleeping Beauty re-awakens and re-appears at court with various other fairy tale characters at the end of Act II, the show is devoid of drama -- no matter that there is a whole final third act of the ballet remaining.
Sensibly, this City Ballet version clocks in at a comparatively spare two hours twenty-eight minutes, including intermission.
There’s also the whole question of style in costumes and set designs. Loosely based both on one of Grimm’s fairy tales and on Charles Perrault’s French adaptation "La Belle au bois dormant" ("The Beauty Sleeping In The Woods"), "Sleeping Beauty" includes cameos by Red Riding Hood and Puss In Boots, among others. So from the beginning it has had a very distinct camp element.
Is this something to play up or to minimize?
City Ballet’s production wisely aims for romantic grace and splendor, keeping the cheese under control and overt irony at a remove. To this end David Mitchell’s scenery is appealingly storybook yet far from simple-minded or inartistic.
The boat that takes Prince Désiré (Tyler Angle) to the castle where he finds the sleeping Princess is an elegant, fanciful little ship -- not a cruise liner or a yacht owned by Ron Perelman.
Lovely scrims are used to show the passage to the castle, and the sets are simple and restrained if traditional.
Patricia Zipprodt’s costumes are tasteful, and much to be preferred to ABT’s costumes for "Sleeping Beauty," which look like items to be worn by members of the Kardashian clan trying to make it as ice skaters.
A special standout among City Ballet’s cast was the supremely elegant and refined Teresa Reichlen as the Lilac Fairy. By contrast, Tiler Peck in the part of the Beauty, Princess Aurora, was consistently fluent and proficient in her steps but sometimes lacking in personality.
Overall though, the company was as impressive as ever, and the first half especially was uncommonly beautiful.