ABT’s Sleeping Beauty

Coming on the heels of a blizzard, Alexei Ratmansky’s new “ Sleeping Beauty ” feels like a strong shot of May. Light, love, life: These motifs underlie every aspect of this production, which is as beautiful as it is philosophical.

The creamy opulence of the sets and costumes alone — miles of silk, sashes and feathers, hundreds of wigs — is almost reason enough to indulge in this sweet world, which American Ballet Theatre is bringing to life at the Kennedy Center Opera House through Sunday. Designer Richard Hudson, who won a Tony for his work on “The Lion King,” was guided by the saturated colors and silhouettes used by the artist Leon Bakst in the Ballets Russes’ “ Sleeping Beauty ” of 1921. The effect is painterly — Louis XIV-Watteau crossed with a little glam-boudoir. No stiff classical tutus; the bell-shaped skirts graze the knees. The upper body is shown to advantage, with a flattering emphasis on feminine curves. The men are in britches. Many of the shoes are heeled.

And yet, with all of this formal attire, so much is revealed. An aesthetic of softness envelops this work like weather. You see it in the drape of the fabrics and in James F. Ingalls’s sunny lighting. But most important, you feel it in the warm, fluid gestures of the dancers.

“The Sleeping Beauty,” as Marius Petipa created it in 1890, is considered the pinnacle of classical form. In some productions, that can translate into rigidity — vertical postures, geometrical poses, a focus on the legs and precision. But Ratmansky pored over notations made in the years after the Petipa premiere and uncovered the details that give his work its human-scale ease and grace. Among them are lower leg lines, less use of pointe work and small but unmistakable details of feeling.


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