"The Sleeping Beauty" is one of the few works from the golden age of Russian classical ballet that has survived more or less intact since it was created in 1890.
That's because the thrill of watching extremely talented people doing incredibly difficult things in time with beautifully lush music to tell a timeless story is something that never grows old.
"The Sleeping Beauty" is a showpiece for a ballet company, as it requires exemplary technique from every member of the troupe, from the principals to the corps de ballet.
And Tulsa Ballet's production of "The Sleeping Beauty" was proof yet again that this city is home to one of the country's top ballet companies. Every element of this performance (we attended the Sunday, 24 Feb. matinee, the final show of the run) proved that every individual on stage had the same commitment to excellence.
This performance was also the first chance many Tulsa Ballet audience members got to see the company's newest principal dancer, Ne Eun Kim, in a major role. She took on the punishing role of Aurora with a deceptive ease and steely grace. While she executed some of the most difficult moves in classical ballet, she did so in a way that was remarkably natural, never calling attention to the fact that what she was doing was quite extraordinary.
Her interactions with the suitors during the Rose Adagio were graceful, accepting their support graciously, even though it appeared that she could have held herself upright en pointe without assistance. And during the violin solo dance, she traversed the width of the Chapman Music Hall stage en pointe with aplomb. Add to that her characterization of the youngster that Aurora is, and it made for a performance as sparkly as the tiara she wore.
Former Tulsa Ballet principal dancer Hyon-Jun Rhee returned to dance the role of the Prince, and it was thrilling to see him on a Tulsa stage again. The elevation of his leaps, and the lightness of his landings, remain thrilling, and his character work is precise and evocative. Most importantly — and, most likely, the one thing audiences overlooked — was the precision of his partnering. His work in his dances with Kim made her dancing seem even more effortless, which is what the male dancer is supposed to do.
And that carried through the rest of the company — this is a ensemble of male dancers who understand the importance of partnering, and they acquitted themselves well.
Jennifer Grace gave her performance of the Lilac Fairy — the embodiment of good in this fairy tale — a lissome serenity that was markedly different from the rest of the company. You could believe she was truly an otherworldly creature, even though she spent most of the evening en pointe.
Sena Hidaka obviously enjoyed being bad as Carabosse, the sorceress who takes VERY unkindly to not being invited to a party; Madalina Stoica was a spritely Princess Florine, and Shuhei Yoshida was a high-flying Bluebird. Regina Montgomery and Daniel van de Laar brought a much-appreciated touch of comedy as the frisky Cats.
The ensemble was superb throughout. Among the highlights were Jaimi Cullen, Montgomery, Aina Oki, Minori Sakita and Maine Kawashima as the Fairies in the Prologue, ably partnered by Gianluca Benedetti, Sasha Chernjavsky, Rodrigo Hermesmeyer, Joshua Stayton, Chong Sun and Yoshida.
Cullen, Kawashima, Giulia Neri, Montgomery, Sakita and Jessica Payne were also outstanding as Aurora's friends, as were the Precious Stones danced by Kawashima, Sun, Sakita, and Hermesmeyer.
Peter Stafford Wilson led the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra is a well-paced performance of Tchaikovsky's score that was full of colour and spirit (if one overlooked some watery passages from the French horns in the overture). Concertmaster Rossitza Goza gave the violin solo a kind of rough-hewn, Gypsy-flavoured attack that was bracing.