(Front from L to R): Amber Wickey, Sarah Bradley, Emmarose Atwood, (Back L to R): Celeste Lopez-Kernanen, Lexa Daniels, Caitlin Kowalski inAdam Hougland’s Sleeping Beauty. Photo: Sam English

Sleeping Beauty

Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Choreography by Adam Hougland

A review by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents are copyright © 2022 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.

Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty is a classic ballet score, originally choreographed by Marius Petipa but over the years others have taken up the challenge with new stagings. As a story, the popular Walt Disney film from the 1950s is arguably the most common point of reference in the audience’s mind, and Adam Hougland’s new take has some similarity to the animated film, but, more importantly, is often quite different.

King Floristan XXIV (Brandon Ragland) and his Queen (Helen Daigle) are hosting a party upon the christening of their only child, Aurora (Leigh Anne Albrechta). As the Master of Ceremonies (Aleksandr Schroeder) welcomes each guest, none are more magical than the Lilac Fairy (Kateryna Sellers) and her fellow fairies of Wisdom (Lexa Daniels), Prosperity (Brienne Witsie), Patience (Simone Muhammad), Laughter (Shelby Shenkman), Confidence (Ashley Thursby). As each beautifully costumed fairy presents its gift to the Princess, it is quickly realized that one magical fairy was not invited, Carabosse (Mark Krieger). Storming into the palace Carabosse and his henchmen curse the Princess that she will die on her 16th birthday by a prick of the finger and quickly leaves. Having not presented her present yet, the Lilac Fairy assures the royal family that the Princess will be protected.

At Princess Aurora’s fabulous, pastel-colored bubblegum pop art birthday party, curated by Colleen Doty and Marion Williams, the festivities are in full effect. As is the custom of the land, the Princess is presented to suitors who have come to ask for her hand, each doing their best to impress in a series of set pieces marked by leaps and bounds. As the wooing continued the Princess is given a bouquet of dark flowers by a dark stranger, Carabosse disguised, and, of course, her finger is pricked by a hidden rose. As the Lilac Fairy comes to fulfill her promise the whole of the land falls into a deep sleep and a forest grows around the castle to protect its sleepy inhabitants.

One hundred years pass and we are transported to a magnificent hunting lodge, complete with the heads of stags on the wall and a lodge-like table/chair and bar. Carabosse is entertaining Prince Florimund (Ryo Suzuki) and introducing many of the ladies of the land with a round of speed dating. While the bevy of beauties took their turns with the dashing Prince, some sitting on his lap or at his feet in admiration, the Lilac Fairy appears incognito to introduce a vision of Princess Aurora to Floriumund, encouraging him to rescue the maiden fair from an eternal slumber.

Just as the Prince is about to reach the Princess, Carabosse returns to the castle and begins to fight the Prince. Through an absolutely exhilarating exhibit of the strength of dance and charisma, the Prince vanquishes the evil Fairy Carabosse and goes to kiss Aurora, thus lifting the veil of the curse.

Upon the couple’s wedding day, Florimund and Aurora enter one of the most elaborate wedding scenes that I’ve seen on the Brown Theatre stage, with an absolutely stunning banquet table! The whole of the land descends upon the castle to celebrate the nuptials including Red Riding Hood and the Wolf (Shelby Shenkman and Mark Kreiger), The Bluebird and Princess Florine (Justin Michael Hogan and Emmarose Atwood), and the very entertaining Puss in Boots and White Cat (Minh-Tuan Nguyen and Caitlin Kowalski). As the dancing comes to a close, the fairies return and the Lilac Fairy blesses the union.

While I am by no means an expert on dance, the movement was different than anything I had seen in other productions of Sleeping Beauty. Adam Hougland’s innovative choreography injected new life into this deeply cherished classic. I would not be surprised if this rendition becomes part of the repertoire of Sleeping Beauty for Louisville Ballet and other companies.

Mr. Hougland demands athleticism and synchronicity in his work. Were these needs consistently met? No. Several times there were instances where a leap or jump didn’t land quite well or when a large gathering of dancers in pointe shoes are flitting about the stage with less precision than one would desire. But, in all honesty, I witnessed very few mistakes that evening.

I dare say that costume designer Alexandra Ludwig wanted to use almost every color under the rainbow. From the opulence of the royal court to the endearing choices for the Fairies, such as a cheerleader outfit for the Fairy of Confidence, to the lavish wedding, the aforementioned pastel birthday party was a taffeta delight, while conversely, the costumes for the hunting lodge/pub gave me a “Thoroughly Modern Millie” vibe. Just stunning.

And just as great as the costumery was, the scenic and lighting designs were just as awe-inspiring. While I mentioned the exquisite tablescape at the wedding scene, the rest of the settings were just as expertly assembled and well thought out. The inside of the castle was bedecked in a lovely wallpaper speckled with peonies, and the scene of Aurora’s vision, with a suspended bed in clouds, was inventive. Jesse Alford’s lighting design, especially in the darker scenes gave us just the right suspenseful ambiance and excitement.

Perhaps one of my favorite scenic designs was presented just before the wedding. When the curtain was raised, we saw what looked like the hallway that leads from the dressing rooms to the stage of the Brown Theatre or even the Kentucky Performing Arts Center. Having walked that hallway on occasion, I enjoyed that nod, complete with the fairytale characters invited to the wedding just waiting for their call to perform; some leaning against the wall, some just sitting on the floor reading the trades.

During Artistic Director Robert Curran’s curtain speech, he reminded us that this was the final production the Louisville Ballet’s 70th Anniversary season, one that included several World Premieres, including Sleeping Beauty. He thanked us all for the continued support and laughed that this performance was perhaps a bit of kismet as we are now starting to emerge from an unexpected sleep. I believe he is correct. 

Bravi Tutti!!

Sleeping Beauty

March 31 – April 3, 2022

Louisville Ballet
Brown Theatre
315 West Broadway
Louisville, Kentucky 40202

Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.