As freshly reimagined by State Street Ballet, Sleeping Beauty represents an extraordinary gift to our community. To have an original version of one of the great story ballets that’s this imaginative, this beautiful, and so grand to call our own deserves universal recognition and acclaim.
Years in the making, State Street Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty takes inspiration from the traditional fairy tale and turns the magnificent score by Tchaikovsky into a magic kingdom where all are welcome. Deise Mendonça and Aaron Smyth make a tender and thrilling couple as Princess Aurora and Prince Florimund, and the rest of the large cast comes together around them with wit and enthusiasm. Each act of the show takes place in a significant ritualistic setting and occupies a specific place in the seasonal calendar.
Summer sees the christening of baby Aurora in a magnificent cathedral where a band of admiring fairies takes turns celebrating the newborn child. Designer Jean-Francois Revon and principal fabricator Richard Croy have created one of the best sets ever to grace the Granada stage for this show. Costume designer Nicole Thompson and her atelier have outdone themselves in rainbow-brilliant abundance with the wardrobe. Christina McCarthy’s design of the enormous dragon puppet gives this Sleeping Beauty a unique, show-stopping focal point that would be the envy of many a larger city’s best ballet company.
The revue of the company dancers as the various friendly fairies reaches a climax when Arianna Hartanov arrives late to the party as the aggrieved Fairy of Wisdom, Carabosse. What a juicy role for this talented dancer! Her twirling provocations and dastardly scheming enliven the kingdom and activate the plot. Lilac Fairy Saori Yamashita saved the day in Saturday’s performance by weakening Carabosse’s magic spell from a death sentence to a long-term sleep aid.
Aurora’s festive Sweet 16 takes place in a ballroom during fall. The party scene includes some of Tchaikovsky’s most memorable melodies. The entire evening was immeasurably improved by the presence of the Opera San Luis Obispo Grand Orchestra, 40 musicians strong in the pit under the baton of Brian Asher Alhadeff.
The audience and I found much to love in Act Two. The joy of Aurora’s friends, the athleticism of the four suitors, and the presence of the young State Street Ballet Academy students as co-celebrants in the flower dance all contributed to the excitement. Aurora’s meeting with her true love, Florimund, was every romantic thing one could ask for, as Aaron Smyth proved a dazzling prince. Once again, Carabosse found a way to spoil the fun, leaving Florimund and the Lilac Fairy to deal with the sleepy consequences.
Charged with the heavy responsibility of finding his way through the enchanted forest and slaying Carabosse’s dragon, Prince Florimund spent the winter act in the company of some helpful woodland creatures. Choreographers Marina Fliagina, Cecily MacDougall, and Megan Phillipp’s work shone in these delightful vignettes featuring Amara Galloway as Little Red Riding Hood, Oscar Bravo Ly as the Wolf, Marika Kobayashi as Princess Florine, Harold Mendez as Bluebird, and, on Saturday night, Tanner Blee as Puss in Boots and Emma Matthews as White Cat. Children in the audience squealed in delight at the antics of these charismatic performers.
Squeals turned to gasps at the entrance of Carabosse and her fighting dragon. The ensuing battle between Smyth as the Prince and Hartanov and her giant beast brought the evening to a thrilling climax. A blink-and-you-missed-it kiss aroused Aurora and her family back to consciousness for one more act, a spring wedding. It was nice to see that the helpful woodland creatures made the guest list. After multiple flashy solos, a final pas de deux for Mendonça and Smyth fulfilled every ballet fan’s dream of a happy ending. Then it was up to Amanda Kabaretti as the little girl who dreamt (or did she?) the whole thing to bring us all back to reality, all the better for having traveled so far with this outstanding production.
Congratulations to State Street Ballet artistic directors Rodney Gustafson and William Soleau for creating a world-class ballet company in Santa Barbara and allowing these heroic dancers to perform so well.