There’s nothing in classical ballet to compare with the Rose Adagio from “The Sleeping Beauty,” where Aurora balances precariously on pointe as she’s supported by each of her four suitors in turn. It’s a coming-out party for the 16-year-old princess, her chance to show she’s a royal in deed as well as in blood. In the production that Boston Ballet opened Friday at the Opera House, Misa Kuranaga reigned supreme, but her court sparkled as well.
The company’s stagings of “Sleeping Beauty” have been running at four-year intervals — the past four were in 2001, 2005, 2009, and 2013 — and that’s hardly too often. (There’ll be an “encore” presentation next year, just five performances, May 11-19.) Unlike Boston Ballet’s recent productions of “Swan Lake” and “The Nutcracker,” “Sleeping Beauty” hasn’t gotten a makeover, and that’s all right, too. David Walker’s French Baroque sets and costumes look as sumptuous as ever; Marius Petipa’s choreography, with some additions by Frederick Ashton, needs no updating.
Neither does the story. The dramatic outburst with which Tchaikovsky’s score begins is actually Carabosse’s theme — she’s the “bad” fairy who doesn’t get invited to baby Aurora’s christening. Carabosse retaliates by proclaiming, in ballet mime, that Aurora will, on her 16th birthday, prick her finger on a spindle and die. In real life, roses have thorns, and the spindle represents women’s work. This being a fantasy, the Lilac Fairy commutes Aurora’s death sentence to sleep until a prince wakes her. But maybe Carabosse has a point in insisting we should work for our happiness.
Past Boston Ballet productions have often cast Carabosse as a male dancer in drag. This time around, it appears that all the Carabosses will be ladies. Friday night, Erica Cornejo, who’s retiring after this season, seemed the incarnation of evil, but she was still no match for Dusty Button’s regal, reserved, knowing Lilac Fairy.
One blessing of “Sleeping Beauty” is that it offers so many good roles for dancers — mostly the ladies. Friday’s other good fairies — Rachele Buriassi’s Crystal Fountain, Diana Albrecht’s Enchanted Garden, Maria Baranova’s Woodland Glade, Brett Fukuda’s Songbird, and Dalay Parrondo’s Golden Vine —all teased with authority. I particularly liked the softness Parrondo gave Golden Vine.
The third act offers more fairy-tale characters. Lawrence Rines and Rie Ichikawa alternately purred and hissed as Puss’n Boots and the White Cat. Nina Matiashvili was a wide-eyed Red Riding Hood to Desean Taber’s hungry Wolf. Junxiong Zhao’s Bluebird and Ji Young Chae’s Princess Florine soared through their miniature pas de deux; Chae was exquisitely birdlike, and Zhao contributed high-flying leaps and well executed brisés voles. The pas de trois featured two newly promoted second soloists alongside Patrick Yocum: Addie Tapp was light and bright, Lauren Herfindahl earthy and sensual.
Kuranaga, as always, made the most difficult moves look simple; everything was finished, and with panache. What elevated this performance was its mischievous, flirtatious, irrepressible quality. Her Prince Désiré, Paulo Arrais, was modest in his deportment; I could have wished for more ardor. But you can’t fault a dancer who delivers four completely rotated double tours en l’air in a row, not to mention the flashing tours à la seconde. The three fish dives Arrais and Kuranaga did were superb as well.
The production runs nearly three hours. It’s lost a bit of detail over the years: the children in the Garland Dance, the live Russian wolfhounds, the face-off between the prince and Carabosse. But Friday the company’s corps — as the Lilac Fairy’s attendants, the Garland Dancers, Aurora’s friends, the prince’s hunting-party friends, and nymphs and peasants — gave it texture and life. And few bring Tchaikovsky to life like music director emeritus Jonathan McPhee, who was back in the pit leading the Boston Ballet Orchestra.
THE SLEEPING BEAUTY
Choreography by Marius Petipa; additional choreography by Frederick Ashton. Music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Sets and costumes, David Walker. Lighting, John Cuff. Presented by Boston Ballet. At Boston Opera House, through May 27. Tickets $35-$229. 617-695-6955, www.bostonballet.org