‘Sleeping Beauty’ awakens ballet’s poetry

"Sleeping Beauty" starts with a bang. Even before the curtain rises, the evil fairy Carabosse springs to life musically when her angry musical tagline is the first sound from the orchestra pit.

At least that’s how it happens ideally. Since N.C. Dance Theatre can’t afford an orchestra, the company’s first staging of "Sleeping Beauty" – which opened Thursday – relies on a recording to produce Tchaikovsky’s music. That just doesn't have the same power. It signals that NCDT’s "Sleeping Beauty" won’t really be about the opulence and grandeur of classical ballet. Instead, NCDT is offering ballet’s poetry, warmth and dancer-by-dancer drama.

You can see them in the lushness that Alessandra Ball – playing the heroine, Princess Aurora – adds to the grace of Marius Petipa’s classic choreography. You see them in the way Addul Manzano, as Prince Florimond, sweeps into leaps and pirouettes as love stirs the prince out of his melancholy.

Telling moments like those run through the whole story. In the opening scene, several of NCDT’s women – including Melissa Anduiza, Sarah Hayes Watson and Jamie Dee – give spirited, sparkling life to the fairies who try to protect the baby princess from vengeful Carabosse. In the finale, a series of zesty dancers act out "Little Red Riding Hood" and other fairy tales during the celebration.

Yes, everyone’s decked out in elegant, inventive costumes that add glitter. But the company’s size and budget -- and the relative compactness of the Knight Theater stage -- mean that spectacle isn’t the order of the day. Showcasing that has to wait for a richer Charlotte of the future.

Since NCDT only has 16 dancers in its main company – hardly enough to populate a 2 1/2-hour story ballet – it marshaled its NCDT 2 training company, apprentices, and students to flesh things out. It’s mainly in the ensemble numbers for party scenes that the company’s artistic director, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, has supplied flowing, neatly woven choreography to suit the forces at hand. The young dancers perform it airily, even when their synchronization is a little loose.

But the focus always goes back to Ball’s Princess Aurora, who takes on a differing shading in each scene. At her birthday party, before Carabosse’s curse kicks in, she’s buoyant and bright. When she’s conjured up as a vision for the Prince, Ball dances with a softness that gives her an air of being not of this world. During the wedding celebration, she exudes happy-ending cheerfulness.

Manzano’s prince is poised and energetic, though his lack of a ready smile limits the jubilation he projects at the end. As the malevolent Carabosse, on the other hand, David Ingram projects plenty from his face, what with its fright-night makeup – not to mention his clawed fingers and crouching, menacing presence. Compared to him, Ball’s Aurora seemed all the sweeter.