(Another year, another post on this blog's official off-topic diversion.)
Tchaikovsky, Vsevolozhsky, and Petipa's Sleeping Beauty is, among other things, a girl's coming-of-age story: the trouble starts when she draws blood, and it's not until true love takes its step that shadows are banished and the couple can be grandly seen off into marriage by the (other) story-characters of childhood. The many young New Yorkers who took in ABT's performances (in a production much improved by editing) last week may or may not have been particularly receptive to the specifics, but I at least (since, as I've noted, I don't actually know anything about ballet) got to thinking on what characters these onstage princesses -- visions of future, past, or ideal youth and maturation, perhaps -- actually were revealing.
Monday's Princess Aurora: Gillian Murphy. She was the most teen-like of the bunch -- a happy and energetic youth, wonderfully decorative in her spirited elaborations, and remaining essentially such through trial and glory. The gravity in this particular show was offered by the Lilac Fairy, Veronika Part. If Aurora shows who a girl is and becomes, the Lilac Fairy -- who deflects and transforms Carabosse's curse and guides the Prince safely to the rescue -- shows what world we live in, by what arts happiness might be conjured. With Part's Lilac Fairy both grandeur and a certain grave wisdom make the joyful ending on which she insists all the more valuable.
On Wednesday night Part was Aurora, one full to overflowing with life and reverence: for the occasion(s), for the other participants, and most of all for the mystery and glory of the young womanhood newly shining from her in Act I, developed and deepened in the dream of Act II, and fulfilled to all promise in Act III. If the girls and boys who attended this show (even the ones who nearly wrecked later acts with poorly-timed whining) find encouragement to grow into such vivid spirits, the city will be a more interesting place.
Friday's Aurora was Paloma Herrera, another energetic youth of a princess -- perhaps (to be unsubtle) more the jock to Murphy's cheerleader/prom queen -- who again held to her basic underlying character in ups and downs. The lyrical but precise authority of Maria Riccetto's Lilac Fairy meanwhile suggested a more elegant salvation.
If Murphy and Herrera were noticeably-teenaged Auroras, Alina Cojocaru's Saturday matinee princess was very nearly a child. The poise and sweet delicacy of Cojocaru's dancing makes the first-act Rose Adagio a wonder, but after that there's nowhere else to go: her persona is not only wholesome but unblemishable and thoroughly virginal (even the offending spindle barely makes contact -- it wouldn't dare, would it?), and in the adult territory of the later acts she's got nothing to work with.
This was, in a sense, a fitting match to Stella Abrera's matinee Lilac Fairy: her victory via niceness and gently pretty dancing came perilously close to reducing the story to its Disney popularization. Abrera's earlier Lilac Fairy -- for Part on Wednesday night -- was a less happy match, with her character receding in the face of Part's huge personality.
Finally, Saturday evening brought Bolshoi star Natalia Osipova (yes, the one who got mugged earlier last week) for her first Aurora anywhere -- and despite the debut (and last-season's somewhat one-note Giselle), a more clear sense of Aurora's path than usual. This princess was the born, radiant belle of the ball -- and the town, and the kingdom -- who learned the wonder of desire in Act II before being overcome by its directed fulfillment in Act III. (Osipova here put her own personal star power to very fine use, taking it as the starting point for the character.) Her happiness was guided by the firm, minimal-nonsense wand of Michele Wiles, whose Lilac Fairy even Carabosse should have known better than to cross.
With two great and memorable danced characterizations by Part and Osipova, it was a better week than most at the Met.