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Ballet West's 'Sleeping Beauty' anything but sleepy

By Heather Hayes

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, Feb. 10 2014 3:55 p.m. MST

The original “Sleeping Beauty” ballet of 1890 from which all major companies borrow is known for many things: lavish costumes, classical style, complex detail, the most magnificent of all Tchaikovsky scores — and also length.

As gorgeous as the full ballet is, by today’s standards, it’s a yawner. Originally running three hours (not counting intermissions), with a prologue and three acts, the bulk of the story is always completed by Act 2, leaving more than an hour for court dancing and divertissements during the wedding scene.

Ballet West, however, proved that a tighter, two-hour version could still embody the soul of the ballet whilst ensuring audience members didn’t become sleeping beauties themselves.

In a bold move or a brazen one, artistic director Adam Sklute trimmed nearly one-third of the ballet, bringing it to its current form, a few years ago. Remaining true not only to the beloved tale but also to the many important and well-known “moments” was an obvious priority for him.

Yet more than a few redundancies or repetitious variations were shaved off and most likely won't be missed. Sklute may take some heat from purists, but he’s used to that after exposing the company to the bright lights of reality TV in the name of perpetuating the art form.

Ballet West’s long-time principal dancer Christiana Bennett snagged the part of Aurora once again. She’ll share it with Katherine Lawrence, Arolyn Williams and Beckanne Sisk during the run.

Bennett’s athleticism, precision, gravity-defying balance and amazing extension make her an ideal Aurora (the part is highly technical and Bennett is a veteran at facing down challenges).

It’s also dramatic — another of Bennett’s gifts.

The story begins with a bright-eyed young girl who becomes the ghostly premonition of her prince, and then progresses into a mature, regal woman. Her transformation must be steady without seeming too measured or run entirely by scene changes. Hints of her former self and her vulnerabilities must shine though.

Prince Desire, danced by soloist Rex Tilton, left almost nothing to be desired. He’s the whole package: a handsome, formidable dancer who can harness searching, complex emotion in his characters. It’s always a pleasure to watch Tilton’s leaps and turns, which are somehow both light and powerful. His weakness, it seems, are tours en l’air (turns in the air) that lumber at times.

Other standouts include Tom Mattingly as Prince Floristan, who wowed the audience, Elizabeth McGrath as the Lilac Fairy (Fairy of Wisdom in this version), Christopher Sellars as the Bluebird, and the entire corps, which shone with synchronicity and grace. Amy Potter will always get a shout out as the White Cat because she adds a touch of humor, garnering giggles of delight from especially the young audience members.

Speaking of youngsters, the Ballet West Academy members who danced as peasants were more than impressive, partnering with an ease beyond their years and showing why the Academy trains professional dancers.

Bravo to a well-executed, delightful production from a company that keeps the classics fresh and relevant.

Ballet West’s “The Sleeping Beauty" runs Feb. 7-16 at the Capitol Theatre. Call 801-355-2787 or visit balletwest.org for tickets.

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