When it’s curtains up on The Sleeping Beauty, the audience lingers a moment on a second, patterned curtain. It’s soft, dreamily translucencent, and—with the thrumming of the orchestra—it helps transport the theater from a wet and chilly Friday night into the warmth of Tchaikovsky’s and Ronald Hynd’s ballet.
From start to finish, Pacific Northwest Ballet’s first production of the new year drapes itself in baroque majesty. There are chandeliers. There are wooded forests. There are foggy dream carriages and endless royal trains of rich fabric hoisted by smartly dressed children. Half the people on stage don’t dance; instead they peacock around in regalia. It’s the sort of ballet you can envision performed for high society in late 19th century Russia. The scenery and costumes by Peter Docherty deserve their own curtain call.
The story of Princess Aurora and Prince Florimund deals in extravagant visuals but relatively low stakes—a Sunday matinee in terms of emotional energy. Aurora gets cursed, takes a long nap, and is saved by a kiss. Then they throw a big wedding with Puss in Boots (more on that in a second). Even the wicked fairy Carabosse, played by a hammy Jonathan Porretta, is sort of loveable.
This levity in tone does not mean the dancers get a breather, however. Aurora, performed opening night by the reliable Lesley Rausch, offers plenty of poise in between displays of brute strength. Take Aurora’s 16th birthday bash where Rausch stands atop one pointed foot, her other leg raised behind her, as she is spun 360 degrees four times by four different suitors—pausing between each to show off her balance unassisted.
Same for Jerome Tisserand as Prince Florimund who, during the final pas de deux of the third act wedding (everyone knows a good wedding must have multiple!), lifts Rausch's head first as if meaning to toss her like a fish at Pike Place. Instead they pause as she creates a crescent shape around him, her foot high above his head, her fingers inches from the ground. The move is done in a flash that caught the audience joyously off guard each time.
That wedding, by the way… quite the guest list. Red Riding Hood and the Wolf (Calista Ruat and Christian Poppe) make appearances right before the bride and groom—which I guess technically makes them the maid of honor and best man? Puss in Boots and the White Cat show up too (Guillaume Basso and Leah Merchant) as that couple who are always fighting or flirting (or both) and who get too handsy with each other on the dance floor. With all this fantasy crossover potential, that wedding could inspire its own story ballet.
The Sleeping Beauty’s opulence does carry over to its runtime—a big, long performance (three intermissions). It sags a bit in the middle, but finishes with a dazzling third act. It’s a marathon for the company, though less so for members of the audience who are treated throughout with some truly sumptuous visuals. In short: Dress up for this one.
The Sleeping Beauty
Feb 2–10, McCaw Hall, $37–$189