If “The Nutcracker” is the ballet people see the most, “The Sleeping Beauty” might be the one they love the most. Tchaikovsky’s score is inspired; Petipa’s choreography is highlighted by the Rose Adagio, where 16-year-old Princess Aurora balances precariously on pointe as she’s supported by each of her four suitors in turn. And the scenario gives a company’s dancers multiple opportunities to shine, from Aurora and Prince Désiré and the six good fairies who grace baby Aurora’s christening to bad fairy Carabosse, the Bluebird and Princess Florine, Puss in Boots and the White Cat, and Red Riding Hood and the Wolf.
Since 1993, when it bought its current production from the Royal Ballet, Boston Ballet has staged “Sleeping Beauty” every four years or so, and it’s packing 12 performances into the present run at the Citizens Bank Opera House. David Walker’s French Baroque sets and costumes have held up well over the past 30 years; the details register even from the back of the house. Thursday’s opening night, with Ji Young Chae as Aurora and Jeffrey Cirio as Désiré, suggested that every four years is scarcely often enough.
Unlike Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” score, which begins with a wistful oboe solo, “Sleeping Beauty” opens with a dramatic outburst. It’s royal, heroic, music fit for a prince to win the woman of his dreams. Only when Carabosse arrives in the prologue do we realize that this music is actually her theme. Carabosse’s name was — accidentally, we’re given to understand — left off the guest list for Aurora’s christening. When she shows up anyway, in a hail of thunder and lightning, dressed in black and with an entourage of grotesque creatures, we understand what motivated the oversight. But what makes Carabosse bad? Her christening gift — yes, she brought one — to Aurora is a spindle, an emblem of honest work. (It flummoxes Aurora’s royal parents, who don’t appear to have ever seen one.) Perhaps that’s Carabosse’s way of saying that life shouldn’t be all roses and no thorns. Tchaikovsky, to judge by the music he gives her, seems to sympathize.
Carabosse can be played by a woman or a man; Boston Ballet has offered both options in the past and will do so again in this production. On Thursday, Chyrstyn Fentroy set the bar high as a queen of stormy night with a sense of humor. One moment she was making fun of Aurora’s parents (Patrick Yocum and Elizabeth Olds); the next she was throwing a tantrum at the (in her view) goody-two-shoes fairies. It took the intervention of Viktorina Kapitonova’s Lilac Fairy to bring Carabosse up short. Radiant and serene, taking command with the ballet basics of posture and carriage, Kapitonova was a Lilac Fairy who triumphs through the quality of her dancing. Her cohort, when they weren’t dodging Carabosse, served up a gratifying set of variations, from Louise Hautefeuille’s fluid Crystal Fountain to Daniela Fabelo’s perky Enchanted Garden, Soo-bin Lee’s delicate Woodland Glade, María Álvarez’s fluty Songbird, and Kaitlyn Casey’s exuberant Golden Vine.
The rest of the evening belonged to Chae and Cirio. Chae looked delighted with everything at her 16th-birthday party; she flirted with her prince suitors, and in the Rose Adagio it seemed she could stand unsupported on pointe indefinitely. Her variation brought exquisite phrasing, teasing ronds de jambes, a buoyant manège. Cirio was persuasively heartsore in the hunting-party scene (with a solicitous Hautefeuille as his Countess), and then he threaded the isolated turns and balances of Désiré's yearning soliloquy into a narrative that flowed, no mean feat. Ronald Lowry’s tender cello solo made the vision scene, where the Lilac Fairy introduces Désiré to Aurora, that much better.
The wedding divertissements included a pas de trois of crisp amplitude from Lauren Herfindahl, Addie Tapp, and Schuyler Wijsen plus endearing fairy-tale comic relief from Madysen Felber and Alec Roberts as the White Cat and Puss in Boots and Nina Matiashvili and Henry Griffin as Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. Derek Dunn’s Bluebird, with its smudged double tours and modest brisés volés, wasn’t quite in breeding plumage, but he and Chisako Oga’s chirpy Florine still made an attractive courting pair. Then Chae and Cirio surpassed themselves in the Grand Pas de Deux. Cirio’s variation included high-flying cabrioles, pristine double tours, and a manège that popped; in the finale he added tours à la seconde with his arms over his head. Chae toyed with her variation, pointing the music and making every technical challenge look like child’s play. Together they were so in tune that in the last of a series of fish dives Chae was able to turn her head and look at the audience.
“Sleeping Beauty” is not a short ballet. Thursday’s performance, even with quickish tempos from music director Mischa Santora and the Boston Ballet Orchestra, ran close to three hours. But three hours with this company’s production will always be time well spent.
THE SLEEPING BEAUTY
Music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Choreography by Marius Petipa; additional choreography by Frederick Ashton. Staging by Ninette de Valois. Sets and costumes, David Walker. Lighting, John Cuff. Presented by Boston Ballet. At Citizens Bank Opera House, through June 4. Tickets $39-$194. 617-695-6955, www.bostonballet.org
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at email@example.com.