Tchaikovsky’s the master of grand passions, right? The thundering cannon of the “1812” Overture, the weeping strings that die at the end of the “Pathetique” Symphony, the glorious apotheosis at the end of “Swan Lake,” as the lovers hurl themselves into the water – these are heart-on-sleeve moments we recall.
“Sleeping Beauty” opens with a bang: The angry theme of Carabosse, who compensates for exclusion from Princess Aurora’s christening by cursing the baby. Yet what I remember most are the moments of calm: Aurora poised on one leg to meet suitors on her 16th birthday, a lulling moment when everyone goes to sleep together, the prince sailing toward the enchanted palace to rocking music suggesting the slumberers he’ll find.
Artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, who takes his choreography from Marius Petipa’s original version for Tchaikovsky, embraces the big moments. But Charlotte Ballet’s version reaches its peak for me in the intimacy of Act 2.
The prince (Josh Hall), already bored with hunting and games of blind-man’s-bluff with prospective fiancees, longs for something he can’t define until the Lilac Fairy (Sarah Lapointe) shows him what it is: Sleeping Aurora (Alessandra Ball James), under a 100-year spell with the rest of the court. She moves toward him, ethereal and lost in her dreams, and they dance a tender pas de deux where they barely touch. They drop those rigid smiles dancers so often wear and reveal their private, yearning selves.
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But this isn’t an intimate ballet. It’s mainly a vehicle to show off extraordinary classical virtuosity many of these dancers don’t possess, so it feels long during half the ensembles and solos.
James, who’s entering her mid-30s, reprises the role she danced five years ago. She’s now more gracious than girlish: She seems like the host of her party, not the guest of honor. The choreography taxes her stamina, especially in the very slow tempos of the recording used here, though she’s rock-steady in the great Rose adagio.
Yet she has a quality younger ballerinas sometimes don’t, an ability to let emotions flow naturally when the scene permits. Her swoon after pricking her finger in Act 1 has pathos, and her grandeur in Act 3 shows you she belongs on the throne.
P.S. The Carabosse changes daily. I saw Peter Mazurowski as a glamorous creature who behaved like the meanest girl in your high school: sarcastic, petulant, a volcano that glowed red long before blowing her top. She was so amusing that her fate in Act 2 (which I have never seen in a production of “Beauty”) made me wish for the reconciliation some choreographers allow her in Act 3.
When: Through March 19 at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Knight Theater, 430 S. Tryon St.
Running time: 150 minutes.
Details: 704-372-1000; charlotteballet.org