My review of SF Ballet’s “Sleeping Beauty” in the Chronicle yesterday:

“Yuan Yuan Tan let go of her cavalier’s hand in “The Sleeping Beauty’s” Rose Adagio and held her attitude balance one second, two seconds, three seconds, four. It’s a famous feat, and other esteemed ballerinas have managed it, but the twittering applause Saturday had to do with more than circus tricks.

Tan has long inspired love-hate reactions among San Francisco Ballet fans: love for her elegant, spindly lines and irrepressible glamour, and hate for her icy reserve. She’s started to thaw in recent seasons — her Odette in “Swan Lake” last year was as tender as she was tragic, but almost no one would have expected Tan’s unfailing warmth as she bust onstage as Princess Aurora. From her first pas de chat, she was joyous, vulnerable, exuberant and, as she considered her suitors, downright bashful. You couldn’t help but share in her triumph. And the transformation from Ice Princess to Princess Aurora was complete.

“The Sleeping Beauty” has a way of revealing transformation in ballet dancers and in ballet companies, and right now — it runs through Sunday — it’s revealing some attractive things about the San Francisco Ballet. The crown jewel of 19th century Russian classicism, boasting the most shimmering of Tchaikovsky’s ballet scores, “Sleeping Beauty” is the supreme test of a company’s style. In that regard, the Ballet fails: The company’s focus these days is on contemporary ballets, and though you don’t get the sense that the corps is ingesting its lessons like broccoli — they look like they’re enjoying themselves — their approach is eclectic at best.

But “Sleeping Beauty” is also, among classic story ballets, the best showcase for an array of soloists — all those fairies and divertissements. It hasn’t been seen at the Ballet since 2001, and a new crop of talent is ripe for it.

Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson’s 1990 production gives them a classy, efficient vehicle. The late Jens-Jacob Worsaae’s visual design moves the story to Russia, contrasting the Tsarist fashions of the first act with the powdered wigs and French influences when the court awakens 100 years later. The historical approach is all wrong for a fairy tale, but you forget about it quickly enough while still luxuriating in the painterly sets and opulent detail.

Meanwhile, Tomasson’s staging moves speedily — too speedily. Tomasson’s latest adjustment is to eliminate the intermission between Acts 2 and 3, sending us barreling from the Prince’s kiss and Aurora’s awakening straight through the nuptials. The emotional effect is blunted, and it’s too much to take in at one sitting. A good “Sleeping Beauty” should let you savor the dancing, especially when the dancing is this fine.”

Click here for the full review.

A sentence got removed in copy editing; its gist was that Tomasson (following Peter Martins’ lead in streamlining NY City Ballet’s “Beauty”) has cut a lot of the Fairy Tale character divertissments from Act III, and ought to restore some of them. Having only the White Cat and Puss in Boots and the Bluebird Pas feels like a pretty stingy invite list.

I turned around and went right back to see the soloist Rachel Viselli make her debut as Aurora Sunday; a lot of balletomanes were there eager to see what she’d do with it. You can’t really fault her: she has that beautiful physique with that long torso, such pretty lines, such technical assuredness, such a sweet face. She looked nervous in the Rose Adagio, understandably, but didn’t flub anything, then opened up into a bit more lyricism in the Vision Scene. The ballerina-oglers in attendance seemed to approve.

But–but. I still don’t get her. I still don’t understand the spark that Tomasson must see. Because what I saw in that Rose Adagio was a technically accomplished dancer giving me pretty steps. You can chalk this up to nerves, but it’s been consistent throughout her performances–all the equipment is there, but I don’t feel her sharing anything with the audience. I don’t see any surprises on stage, any on-the-spot decision-making in her phrasing and musicality, and most elusive of all, I don’t feel who she is.

Yet she danced an Aurora she should be proud of. I just can’t say it’s a performance that will linger in my mind, or my heart.

I was, however, rather impressed with Davit Karapetyan as her Prince. Temperamentally and physically, he’s not a stereotypical fit for the role: He’s an athletic guy, with big powerful thighs more suited to a body-builder than an aristocrat. So his dancing was far flashier than Tiit Helimets, but also big and exciting–such jumps! Such turns! And most of all, such clear, generous mime. Hardly a textbook interpretation, but a thoroughly credible and enjoyable one.

I would have loved to have seen Tina LeBlanc tonight, but we can’t live at the opera house, can we?

Please leave a comment if you’re a Rachel Viselli fan. I really would like to understand the appeal. And I would love to see her take her gifts and share them in a more human way with us.

1 Comment

  • Robert J. Eaton Posted March 15, 2007 2:17 pm

    I have been a ballet junkie for 25 years and have seen Sleeping Beauty performed by Ballet West at least a dozen times, by the Joffry Ballet once and by the Bolshoi once. (I’m not sure if it was the main artists of the Bolsoi or just a traveling company). It is curious that your comments on Racheal Viselli’s performance are so critical in terms of her stage presence on a performance that was a her debut in a role so demanding as Aurora. Of course, a dancer, even one with all the stage presence in the world, is going to be nervous and concentrating more on the technique than her connection with the audience. Racheal is a beautiful dancer and one that I can say, with my 25 years of attending every ballet within my reach, is one of the best both in terms of technique and audience connection. I have seldom seen a ballerina that could hold the Rose Adagio position for the length of time she did.

    I do appreciate that your critique was couched in helpful terms and that you recognize the qualities about her that you have, but I hope that you will be able to see her again in a demanding role that she has performed at least once.

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