Peggy Sue Dunigan

Sleeping Beauty

By - Oct 27th, 2008 02:52 pm

Magical lighting effects abound in the Milwaukee Ballet’s season-opening production, Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty. But commingled with the sparse post-modern scenery, these fantastical efforts slightly diminished the accomplished dancing in Michael Pink’s reinterpretation of this full length ballet, which also displayed Marius Petipa’s legendary choreography.

Pink’s version of the familiar fairy tale reduced the three-hour plus length to just over two hours, including an intermission. His production centers the story on royal and regal sequences celebrating Princess Aurora’s christening, 16th birthday, and eventual wedding. While these scenes showcase grandeur, the chosen elements understate the dramatic heart of the story and engage the audience visually more than emotionally. When Prince Desire finally awakens Princess Aurora with true love’s kiss, the remaining ballet movements become anti-climatic, even though exquisite dancing highlights their wedding ceremony.

The massive semi-circular stage backdrop, placed high above the dancers, further enhanced this emotional distance. Between David Grills’ lighting designs transforming the floor of the stage and the constructed “sky” backdrop, there appears a black space. These three components divided the stage into separate sections where the lavish costumes and elegant ballet steps dissolved into the black abyss. When smoke envelops the stage during a scene transporting the Prince and Lilac Fairy to Aurora’s castle, the set design finally complements the performers and production, but only briefly. Budget concerns often necessitate simplicity of stage design, but cohesiveness between the set and dancers was missing from this Sleeping Beauty. The semi-circular set design also overpowered both the stage and the dancers so they appeared smaller than life. Often the Milwaukee Ballet uses a backlit stage and scenery with theatrical success, but this production was not one of those successes.

Tchaikovsky’s score orchestrated under Andrew Sill’s direction and the superb skill demonstrated by all members of the Milwaukee Ballet Company beautifully enlivened the production, especially with the imaginative use of garlands and the corps’ synchronized choreography honoring Aurora’s 16th birthday. Luz San Miguel and Ryan Martin (married partners outside the ballet) portrayed the Prince and Princess with delicate artistry, especially in the bridal pas de deux. In contrast, the evil sorceress Carabosse created welcome tension throughout the performance in her flowing ebony costume, fluidly executed by Jeanette Marie Hanley with devilish flair. Her four attendants twisted and tumbled around her, adding another malevolent touch to the tale.

Equally impressive throughout the performance was the addition of students from the Milwaukee Ballet School. Acquiring stage presence and exposure early in a career develops the company’s commitment to the Ballet’s future, advancing the art of dance. While this production of Sleeping Beauty envisioned the Milwaukee Ballet’s impressive talent, perhaps the upcoming season will more brilliantly illuminate these valuable gifts.

The Milwaukee Ballet’s next production is The Nutcracker, a holiday tradition, which runs December 12 through December 28. 414.902.2103 or

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