Eugene Ballet Company opened its season with a dazzling production of choreographer Petipa and composer Tchaikovsky’s “The Sleeping Beauty.”
What a treat to ease into a classical ballet – fairies! Good ones, one really bad one, garland dancers, dancing cats, dancing bluebirds (Question for Petipa: Why no scene where Puss in Boots chases the Bluebird? – but I digress) – the overall effect was pure magic, and the classic roots of the dancing showed off the sharp technique of the EBC dancers.
Yoshie Oshima and Hirofumi Kitazume were transportive as Princess Aurora and Prince Désiré. We don’t see them really strut their stuff until the hunting and wedding scenes after intermission, but it’s well worth the wait. Oshima is doll-like, petite, but fiercely strong, too. Her movement is impeccable, and she’s perfectly matched with Kitazume, who eats up the stage, boldly pushing his way into solos that sail across the Silva hall, and then settling down for enchanting partner work. His versatility is commendable, as he clearly possesses that rare combination of balance, agility and showmanship.
The parade of gorgeous fairies is fun, and the three-year-old seated behind me loved all of them, her grandmother patiently whispering the virtues they represented. Danielle Tolmie as the Lilac Fairy holds it altogether, offering ideas and comfort to bereft parents, helping the Prince find Aurora, vanquishing the evil Carabosse; the Lilac Fairy has a heart of oak. Victoria Harvey as the Fairy of Generosity also has a quality that’s really compelling onstage, as does Suzanne Haag, as the Fairy of Eloquence. These dancers really shined, head to tow, their acting skills matched by strong footwork and unflagging energy.
Jennifer Martin, the company’s Ballet Mistress, plays the Bad Fairy Carabosse with delicious fervor. (Carabosse really holds a grudge, and serves as a lifelong lesson that you really want to double-check the guest list.)
Among the men, Mark Tucker, as the randy Puss in Boots was a fan favorite. This ballet – with the Petipa choreography – features women more than it does the male corps, but when they get a chance to open it up, the EBC fellas really turn it on. Cory Betts and Isaac Jones bring a lot to their roles, and Antonio Anacan invariably dances full out.
Let’s talk about the dog. As a special guest, the hunting scene in Act III featured a lovely Irish wolfhound onstage, named Drogo:
WC Fields once famously quipped, “Never go onstage with children or animals” and I’ll admit, throughout the hunting scene, my eye was trained on the adorable Drogo, whose choreography included sitting, staying, and raising his paw, repeatedly, so that his handler, a proud Cory Betts, would feed him more treats. Admittedly, I have no idea what was happening onstage while Drogo was on the boards, and I was shocked that Drogo himself didn’t receive an enormous bouquet of roses at the curtain call, or at least Milk Bones.
Dancers from the Eugene Ballet Academy, as well as some of its teachers round out the cast ably. Everyone seems resplendent in vaguely 18th century white wigs and enormous crinolines. Costumes by Amy Panganiban and Sharla McAndrew shine, glowing with a sunny yellow and lavender color palette (well, except for Carabosse and her henchmen) and defining the artifice of the waning imperial world that Petipa and Tchaikovsky were adorning, back in the day.
Toni Pimble has accomplished something here that I’m not sure many in the audience realize. Taking a classical ballet, by one of the progenitors of the form, and carrying it off by a regional company? The feat is commendable, and Pimble’s understanding of the ballet’s historical significance, and her eye for making it relevant and modern enough to be appreciated by a media-rattled 2015 audience, who maybe don’t have the same patience levels as audiences did 100 years ago, is nothing short of a miracle. She makes the old new. I love this stuff; I could watch it all day. It’s a style – forward facing, much more presentational than our modern sensibilities might crave – but there’s something so relaxing about clean lines, themes and repetition, of the novelty of throwing in Fairy tale characters and dogs and kids. Why not? I love EBC for just going for it.
Sets, too, by Russell Coburn, and lighting by Kelly Baum, envelope the stage in an almost Disney-like sweetness, providing illusory counterpoint to the confectionary costumes and the rich, classical dance.
A rewarding evening. Long live the Czar!