'Beauty' lives up to its name

Elizabeth Olds and Larissa Ponomarenko at a rehearsal for Boston Ballet's ''The Sleeping Beauty,' which opened last night at the Citi Wang Theatre. Elizabeth Olds and Larissa Ponomarenko at a rehearsal for Boston Ballet's ''The Sleeping Beauty,' which opened last night at the Citi Wang Theatre. (Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff)
By Karen Campbell
Globe Correspondent / April 24, 2009
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Charles Perrault's "The Sleeping Beauty" is one of the most familiar stories in the fairy tale canon. Inadvertently slighted at a celebration, a fairy casts an evil spell on a young princess. On her 20th birthday, Princess Aurora pricks her finger on a poison spindle and is cast into a deep sleep for 100 years, until awakened by the kiss of a handsome prince. Happily ever after . . .

In the gifted hands of Marius Petipa, who choreographed the fairy tale in 1890 to Tchaikovsky's luminous score, the story was transformed into one of the greatest works in the classical ballet repertoire. And though the ballet has undergone a number of restagings, Boston Ballet's version, which opened last night at the Citi Wang Theatre, hearkens back to the purity of Petipa's conception. It is a big, lavish production that beautifully showcases the dancers' classical style, from the traditional mime that adds detail to the storyline to big ensemble numbers, character dances, and a host of sometimes breathtaking solos. The production is also a great showcase for the orchestra, which, led by Jonathan McPhee, gives the score a robust reading, with vivid solos by winds, cello, and violin.

The production's tone is set by David Walker's richly textured costumes and imaginative décor, which suggest both antiquity and opulence. (The current production is dedicated to the talented Walker, who died in December.)

The prologue's pomp and pageantry are highlighted by a spirited corps of fairies, especially Misa Kuranaga's charming Songbird Fairy, who skittered and quivered like a hummingbird. Erica Cornejo was gracious and technically first-rate as the Lilac Fairy, though her presence seemed a little lightweight for a character of her power and import. Melanie Atkins gave the mean-spirited Carabosse an effective malevolence.

Larissa Ponomarenko's Aurora was a marvel, an assured young women in the full bloom of youth, dancing with a full-bodied ebullience and crisp clarity. Her footwork was impeccable, her balance as she passed among suitors was impressive, and she didn't stop smiling until she pricked her finger and succumbed to sleep. In Act II, she was an ethereal, unattainable vision for Carlos Molina's lovestruck Prince Florimund.

If they can stay awake for the nearly three hours, children will love the Act III wedding, with its fanciful guest list. Puss 'n' Boots and the White Cat paw and nuzzle. The Wolf chases Little Red Riding Hood. And of course Prince Florimund finally sweeps Aurora literally off her feet. This is where Molina started to light up the stage, but after two brilliant solo leaps, he apparently injured himself. He gracefully strolled offstage, and Pavel Gurevich seamlessly took his place, though the chemistry and unity with Ponomarenko were lacking. This left the act's highlight to James Whiteside and Kathleen Breen Combes, who were dazzling in the leaps and lifts of the famous Bluebird pas de deux.

Boston Ballet's "The Sleeping Beauty"

At: Citi Wang Theatre

Last night, through May 3

Tickets 866-348-9738