Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet, the touring ``twin sister'' of London's Royal Ballet, began its United States tour in Boston last weekend by drenching the Wang Center stage in luxury. The feeling of riches didn't come from the gold spangles that rained down at the end of ``Sleeping Beauty,'' choreographed originally by Marius Petipa and produced for the company by its artistic director, Peter Wright. Rather it came from a pace that sprinted and sparkled but stopped for poses, sweeping crowd scenes spiked with bright solos, and, most important, brilliant dancers who moved with ease.
The ballet is full of divertissements -- dances-within-the-dance, like conceits in a poem -- which are demanding in themselves. Often these just seem like distractions. But this ``Sleeping Beauty'' spread such a broad panorama that from time to time I actually forgot about Marion Tait and Roland Price, Princess and Prince. In fact, Tait, with a reserved style and some difficulty in the Rose Adagio, seemed not quite up to Price's swift leaps and clean, decisive landings, nor did he pay her much attention as he flew along.
The Rose Adagio is a famous moment where the Princess stands on point on one leg, the other leg high behind her in arabesque as four suitors take turns supporting her. As one lets go, she raises both arms to frame her face, then takes the hand of the next. Tait went down on a flat foot for a moment. She got back up on her point but never regained her balance, and had to make quick waves and grabs. When this scene fails, it fails completely, which is why it is so fearsome for ballerinas. Later, she had more poise.
The lack of romance at the core hardly mattered. There were more than two stars in this ballet, and more than one climax. David Yow and Lili Griffiths were brilliant as the Blue Bird and the Enchanted Princess. Yow jumped up, legs pointed, and swung them forward as he leaped like a slim blue dagger. Griffiths sparkled. Peter Jacobsson and Michael O'Hare, opening a scene with partners, both stepped into such sharp poses they looked like a movie stopping. Galina Samsova as the evil fairy took over the whole stage with the placement of her powerful shoulders and her glare. And in Miami, the role of Princess Aurora's mother will be taken by Margot Fonteyn.
The slow moments were just as important. There was something about the pace of this ballet that made each arabesque done by a row of six fairies seem equally interesting. Some new productions of classical ballets have little tricks to hold the audience's attention -- speeded-up solos or heated-up romance. The Sadler's Wells (SWRB) prides itself on maintaining a museum-quality ``Sleeping Beauty.'' What kept me engrossed for more than two hours was that there was hardly a moment when I could see a foot out of place or a leg out of line. The dancers worked hard wherever in this vast pageant they found themselves. Classical ballet technique, after all, is the original audience-grabbing trick. It worked especially well because they relied on it so confidently.
They moved without tension. When the New York City Ballet stands still, you get the impression of greyhounds straining at leashes. In the SWRB, when six perfect hands moved, frondlike, overhead to balance out the pointed feet stretched out behind, they seemed to have all the time in the world to line up. Mime is usually taken out of modern versions of classical ballets because it's considered boring. But director Peter Wood said in an interview that he puts it back in. When Margaret Barbieri, the Lilac Fairy, held her head up, drew her hand across her face, then kissed her hand with all the relish of a French chef saying ``bon appetit,'' the idea of the Princess being kissed awake by a handsome prince seemed brand new.
This reviewer got home at 11:30, thinking it was probably around 10. Beyond suspending disbelief, I had begun to see things in a leisurely, 19th-century manner.
The Sadler's Wells will appear at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, N.Y. (through Feb. 9); State Theater, Cleveland (Feb. 11-16); Dade County Auditorium, Miami Beach (Feb. 18-22); Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota, Fla. (Feb. 24-25); Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, Fla. (Feb. 28-Mar. 2).