Is it true that "Sleeping Beauty" is Ballet West's prettiest ballet?

Yes, "picture perfect" is the right description for this visually opulent, full-length fairy story, in Peter Cazalet's inspired designs that combine elements of Russian and French baroque elegance, with costumes lovingly crafted by David Heuvel at his best.This production summons up visions of an ideal kingdom of long ago, its lofty stairways and marble halls adorned with beautiful, smiling people. "Sleeping Beauty" is escapist ballet, a treasured possession of the company; and five years after its exciting company debut is a good time to see it again in all its splendor, in a good staging by John Hart, whose personal experience with the ballet extends over several decades.

The production brings to the epitome of its development the sort of ballet in which Petipa-Tchaikovsky excelled - a spirited processional of set pieces, one solo, duo, trio, quartet or ensemble following another, with the sort of musical punctuation that highlights and sets up the action, and primes the applause. Conductor Terence Kern and his orchestra make sure that these punctuations and highlights come off with utmost style, in a classical ballet that plays shamelessly to the audience, and audiences over the past weekend seemed to love every minute.

The production has been cut very little (only a few inconsequential variations), and Bruce Caldwell's choreography for the garland dance and Raymond Van Mason's pas de quatre in the wedding scene fit seamlessly into the whole.

To do a work this big with only 40 dancers is an enormous challenge, and though some apprentice-level dancers are brought in from the conservatory and the University of Utah, sometimes the stage looks a little underpopulated. But though many dancers dance several variations in an evening, sometimes two shows a day, style and effervescence suffered no loss during the weekend's performances.

Only seven dancers remain from the 1986 production of "Beauty," and four of them (Wendee Fiedeldey, Robert Arbogast, Jane Wood and Raymond Van Mason) dance the Auroras and Florimunds, with all the others in significant parts.

As Aurora, Fiedeldey delivered a plucky rose adagio and gained in strength and security as the evening passed, to a sparkling grand pas de deux (Petipa at his most horrific in balances and unsupported poses) of gracious assurance. Arbogast as her quintessential fairytale prince exhibits the requisite technique and magical aura.

Erin Leedom is young and fresh as springtime in a lissome portrayal, triumphant in the rose adagio's cruel tests of balance, and she delivers a final pas that is poetic, strong and joyous. Van Mason partners her romantically and masterfully.

Jane Wood is technically adept and exudes considerable charm as a vulnerable little fairy princess, growing to adult assurance in the wedding scene.

She is partnered by Anatoli Kucheruk, an exciting dancer from Russia's Kiev Ballet, who fulfills all attributes and requirements of his character flawlessly. But Florimund is not exactly the most thrilling part for a debuting virtuoso.

Among supporting dancers, Lisa Lockerd makes a regal and benign Lilac Fairy, physically ideal but perhaps a little cool and distant in human sympathy. Bene Arnold again revels in the evil Carabosse, making smashing entrances and exits in flashes of flame, attended by imps as vile as herself.

Good fairies and pas de quatre are well served in beauty of form, movement and characterization by principal dancers and such comers from the second echelon as Melanie Watts, Maggie Wright, Allyson Evans, Christie Freebairn and Bridget Boutin. Fortunately Pe-tipa gave the men plenty to do in this ballet, where their support, solos and ensembles offer pleasing contrast. And Aurora's suitors, tall and handsome in their flowing wigs and dashing French dandy costumes - a girl would have a hard time deciding.

Among variations, Jiang Qi dances a daring Bluebird of quicksilver flexibility and exciting battements, with Jennifer Demko as his adorable princess. Equally exciting and avian on a larger scale are Jeffrey Rogers and Maggie Wright, while Virginia Haygood and Cameron McNinch are cunning and sneaky as Puss in Boots and the White Cat.

In summary then - Ballet West proves once again that a small independent company, isolated in the West and cast upon its own resources, can pull off a respectable and even glowing version of a great balletic classic, when competently directed.