Thursday, February 11, 2010


Another experience at The Pacific Northwest Ballet - this time, The Sleeping Beauty. The production was lavish, stylized, ceremonial; an exercise in pantomime. I still found it lovely, although it was so markedly different in interpretation than the sexy, throat-ripping Romeo et Juliette, which left me with an oddly sad, metallic feeling - a realization, I think, that the lovers seemed to me now reckless teenagers, when before they had seemed like a shocking comet of passion.

In the Act I of this ballet (post-prologue), the princess dances the "Rose Adagio" with her four suitors. At one point, she stands, perfectly extending one leg while balancing on the other en pointe. Betraying not so much as a wobble, she holds this pose...and holds it, as all four suitors gallantly approach her, each one elaborately twirling her about once, as if she were a top. The principal dancer in this production (Mara Vinson) was just incredible to watch, but this stilted section struck me as such a metaphor for femininity: this graceful, decorous woman holding an impossible position of display as if it were effortless; being turned and manipulated by each suitor in turn. Meanwhile, the court conjectures over who should pluck her.

Now, I don't bring this up in an angry "Boo sexism!" kind of way. Rather, the thought struck me at the time, and mingled with my amazement at Vinson's consummate athleticism. She really was breathtaking to watch. Flash forward to the next evening and, me, weeping my way through the end of "The Young Victoria" ("Oh my God but I thought these long-dead people would live forever!") This story is really one of female conquest. Prince Albert's presence is wispy, deferential, and quiet. He tells the queen "I am replaceable, and you are not." As a love story, I really liked it, but it wasn't a narrative I felt accustomed to seeing.

Three cheers for the Prince Alberts of the world (and the Victorias).

(photo credit:


  1. Here is a great, insightful comment from my friend Kristy, a dancer herself:

    I like this bit you wrote Kirsten. Was the Sleeping Beauty the Balanchine choreography? Traditional ballet is an interesting
    form for me and I do a lot of thinking about it. I always want to appreciate a form that seems to be dying. A sort of patriotic
    glowing in me for the arts and what losing the old ones means. Sitting through Act 1 of any of the traditional ballets is a practice
    in monkish discipline for me as they are usually as slow and ritualistic as possible with a
    physical language of symbols that mean things that the audience doesn't get briefed on anymore. Plus, traditional ballet
    uses the same vocabulary of movements without fail, and what must it be like to convey genuine emotion with a limited
    number of "words".
    Then there is the virtuosity of ballet, which increases every generation.
    The leg gets higher and higher, we see more and more fouetes and pirouettes and the men jump higher and higher.
    We get to be excited and revved up by the acrobatics (which are seemingly impossible).
    It's almost the opposite of the ceremonial, silent and implied dance that ballet was. I always want to be moved and in the
    melodrama and atheltiscim there seems to be a window into that moment...somewhere with ballet.
    I'll tell you what though. Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake (all men) pulls in enough contemporary culture and humor along with
    a modern repetoire, that it is captivating. You can get clips on youtube. I would love to know if you have any other thoughts.
    (my dance degree emerges from sleep now and then)

  2. Your review on Sleeping Beauty was so satisfying to read. I'm jealous I didn't see it in person, but you made me feel as if I had seen the first act!

  3. Thank you so much, Emily! I'm glad you enjoyed it. :-)

  4. Like you, I was deeply impressed by Vinson's strength in the Rose Adagio.

    Though unfamiliar myself with the symbols and meanings of movements in Traditional Ballet, I appreciate Kristy's comments above. I tend to prefer more metaphorically/abstractly driven choreography like that from Romeo and Juliet earlier in the season, but this may be simply because I am not familiar with the encyclopedia of movements in the Traditional style. That said, I love the comment "what must it be like to convey genuine emotion with a limited number of 'words.'" This is reminiscent to me of Piet Mondrian's "De Stijl" era painting work; expression with self-imposed constraints. It makes the art all the more amazing when the constraints themselves are incapable of limiting the mastery of the work, no matter the medium.

  5. That's what I find inspiring, too, Will. Great comment. The same could be said of formal meter in poetry, for instance. In the hands of a master, the formal constraints do not limit the impact of the art, but rather serve to highlight the "play" and inventiveness of the artist. You could of course say that all experience is re-expressed (and thus mediated) through the forms we have available to us -- however daring our breakage of them, we still begin with a form at the outset. (English education, rattling around in my brain somewhere...)