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Review: Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Dancers impress, delight in 'The Sleeping Beauty'

| Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014, 9:04 p.m.
Amanda Cochrane and Yoshiaki Nakano in Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'The Sleeping Beauty.'
Rich Sofranko
Amanda Cochrane and Yoshiaki Nakano in Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'The Sleeping Beauty.'
A scene from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'The Sleeping Beauty,' with Julia Erickson and Cooper Verona in the lead roles
Rich Sofranko
A scene from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'The Sleeping Beauty,' with Julia Erickson and Cooper Verona in the lead roles
Amanda Cochrane and Yoshiaki Nakano in PIttsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'The Sleeping Beauty.'
Rich Sofranko
Amanda Cochrane and Yoshiaki Nakano in PIttsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'The Sleeping Beauty.'

The 45th season of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre opened with weekend performances of a compact and beautifully danced version of “The Sleeping Beauty.” The production was seen Oct. 25 at the Benedum Center, Downtown, and lasted two-and-one-half hours, including one 20-minute intermission.

“The Sleeping Beauty” was created in 1889 and premiered in January 1890 in St. Petersburg with choreography by Marius Petipa and music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

Company artistic director Terrence Orr's staging updates the choreography to take advantage of the technical skill of modern dancers. His production also pays close attention to pantomime and tells the story with great clarity.

Most of the action occurs at the court of the King of France, whose daughter Aurora is the title character. The prologue takes place at a celebration of Aurora's christening. Orr's production features spectacular dancing for the fairies who dance in tribute to the baby. Caitin Peabody was stunning in treacherous pointe work as the Fairy of Abundance. Molly Wright as the Fairy of Song and Gabrielle Thurlow as the Fairy of Energy were no less impressive.

Julia Erickson was deliciously evil as Carabosse, who casts a curse on Aurora — that she will prick her finger and die by her 16th birthday.

Elysa Hotchkiss brought regal bearing to the Lilac Fairy, who uses her magical power to ameliorate Carabosse's curse.

Act 1 followed without intermission. It began with Carabosse and her monsters brewing poison in a giant cauldron at the front of the stage. The curtain rises on Aurora's 16th birthday party, at which she is introduced to four suitors, princes from the east, west, north and south. Nurlan Abougaliev, Alejandro Diaz, Cooper Verona and Corey Bourbonniere were each commanding figures.

Amanda Cochrane was an enchanting Aurora at Saturday evening's performance. (A different dancer portrayed Aurora at each of the four performances.) The famous Rose Adagio, in which she dances with each of the princes, was a remarkable demonstration of poise and control dancing on pointe with her other leg extended and bent at the knee. Cochrane also conveyed her character's development from girlishness in Act 1 through discovery of real love and its maturing effect in subsequent acts.

Cochrane's dancing was terrific at conveying the effect of the poisoning she suffers from being pricked by a corsage of flowers given by Carabosse. The act concludes with the entire court being put to sleep for a hundred years by the Lilac Fairy.

After intermission, we meet Prince Desire in Act 2, at a hunting party in a forest. Yoshiaki Nakano was a virtuoso prince, whose leaps commanded the stage. The speed with which he brushed his legs against each other during the leaps was spectacular. During this act, the Lilac Fairy leads him to Aurora, but first he kills Carabosse with a sword the Lilac Fairy had presented to him.

The final act is a celebration of the wedding of Aurora and Prince Desire, and includes some of the ballet's most famous numbers. JoAnna Schmidt and Masahiro Haneji were outstanding in the Bluebird Pas de Deux. Her gracefulness was delightful. Haneji, who joined the company's corps de ballet this season, brought both athleticism and charisma to the stage. He's a dancer to watch.

Olivia Kelly and William Moore were utterly delightful as The White Cat and Puss 'n Boots.

Cochrane and Nakano brought the ballet to its proper climax in their Pas de Deux, a form in which they start by dancing together, followed by a variation for each, and conclude dancing together. From subtle gestures, such as the tilt of Cochrane's head toward Nakano, to broader attributes such as her speed and grace and his bold command of space, this duo gave the feeling that this is a marriage for the ages.

Guest conductor Martin West, who is music director of San Francisco Ballet and was substituting for Charles Barker, made the most of the evening. The orchestra played with more spirit than one might have thought possible. The performance often sounded lugubrious, but it didn't look that way because of the richly elaborate choreography and the spirit with which it was performed.

Mark Kenny is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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