Theater Review: Moscow Festival Ballet’s “Sleeping Beauty”

The Moscow Festival Ballet performed “Sleeping Beauty” on Jan. 22 at Stephen’s Auditorium.

Maggie Curry

Friday evening crowds gathered in Stephens Auditorium for the return of “Sleeping Beauty” and the Moscow Festival Ballet.

En pointe

The evening began in the Celebrity Café with a talk on the pointe shoe from Beth Clarke, a local studio owner. She addressed common questions, like “Do they really dance on the tips of their toes?” and “Does it hurt?” She included the origins of the pointe shoe and how to choose a pointe shoe. (Hint: There are five different foot types. My feet are Egyptian.)

Young girls came up to the podium after Clarke’s talk, where she greeted them and let them examine the pointe shoes she had brought. Clarke said she teaches youth ages 3 to 18 but does not start pointe until the students are in fifth grade.

There was a quiet level of chatter among the audience before the ballet. The audience ranged in age, down to the almost-two-year-old dancing in the row behind me. Her sister frequently narrated the performance. This was her second ballet and my first.


Tchaikovsky’s music fills the auditorium before the curtain lifts to reveal a great hall. The center backdrop is an image of cherubim holding dark blue curtains around a crown.

The Master of Ceremonies (Denis Onufriychuk) announces the birth of Princess Aurora. Six couples, with women in Renaissance-style dresses of tangerine, salmon and green and men in feathered hats, welcome the swaddled baby, carried by a maid. She is placed in the rear, in a pink bassinet. 

The King (Dmitry Romanov) and Queen (Natalia Ivanova) enter in pale blue trimmed in spotted white fur. The King’s crown sits atop a long, curly white wig and gold shoes adorn his feet. They cross to two thrones at the right corner of the stage.

Fairies enter in bright tutus of blue, salmon, white, pink, and yellow, representing Tenderness, Boldness, Generosity, and Carelessness (or Carefree). The yellow is the Fairy Canary, who mimes making song during her lively solos. The Lilac Fairy (Maria Klyeva) and her attendants follow en pointe. They danced together in a line twice, performing spins and kicks. 

Klyeva is listed on the casting as one of the performers for Princess Aurora, but danced the role of Lilac Fairy that evening. Earlier in the performance she seemed unsteady and was not landing her turns neatly, but her series of leaps were impressive and received the first round of applause. Later in the ballet she appeared much more comfortable in her role.

A great bang interrupts the celebrations and the cast rises dramatically. The Master of Ceremonies checks his list and realizes a mistake, which he shows the King.

The lighting changes quickly, casting the entire stage and scenery blood red. A spotlight reveals the Fairy Carabosse (Evgeniy Rudakov), followed by two creatures in masks. Carabosse, clothed in a black cape, lined in purple and trimmed in spotted white fur, torments the attendant and mocks the King and Queen. Through mime, Carabosse curses the baby princess, pulling a spindle from the cape.

Following the curse, the Queen slowly makes her way to the bassinet. Throughout the ballet the Queen’s movements were soft and apathetic. The King had a few strong commands, but was often lethargic in his gestures. They frequently remained in the corner upon their thrones but did not give off an aura of intimacy. Throughout the ballet the King and Queen were aloof and showed a civilized restraint from emotion.

The Lilac Fairy came to the baby’s defense, bringing white light to the red scene and banishing Carabosse and the creatures to the corner of the stage using a sprig of lilac.

After Carabosse leaves the stage in a cloud of smoke, the maid brings the princess to centerstage, framed by the King and Queen on either shoulder. The Lilac Fairy twirls in front of the tableau as a curtain drops, leaving her twirling outside the castle gates to the audience’s applause.

The King demands anyone with a spindle be executed. The Master of Ceremonies (MC) goes to collect the spindles, encountering three women who attempt to hide their spindles. They gift him with socks and a scarf to chuckles from the audience, completing the prologue.

There were several points in the prologue when the orchestrations increased in volume without a matching increase in choreography or action onstage, which led to some confusion. In the majority of the ballet it was easy to tell Tchaikovsky’s music and the choreography were created for each other. 

Act 1

The gate rose for Act 1 to reveal a different part of the palace. The King and Queen are entertained by women in green dresses carrying baskets of flowers and men in straw hats with flowered hoops.

They dance with the MC to a tune the four-year-old behind me identified as the song “Once Upon a Dream” from the Disney adaption of the story. 

Princess Aurora (Alexandra Krukova) enters in pink in the rear to unsure applause from the audience. She encompasses the joy and energy of youth through quick movements and a beaming smile.

Aurora greets her parents and four suitors. At the Queen’s encouragement Aurora begins to dance. Krukova’s portrayal of youthful enjoyment, almost coquettish, distracts from her unsteady turns during the Rose Adagio. Those turns are often considered the most difficult part of the ballet. 

At times during the ballet, Krukova’s movements appeared shaky and uncertain, but when her technique wobbled, her expression and character made up for it. Overall it left the audience unsure when to applaud for the ballerina. (As a girl who struggles to do 20 minutes of aerobic activity, I was still amazed by each leg lift and twirl en pointe.)

Aurora is offered a bouquet from a disguised Carabosse. Inside the bouquet is a spindle, which she teasingly keeps out of her parents’ reach. Accidentally pricking her finger, she continues to dance, rising en pointe and falling into multiple bows before fainting.

The Lilac Fairy arranges Aurora on a bed and greenery slowly descends from above, casting the stage in emerald. The curtain falls as Tchaikovsky’s tune becomes a lullaby. At intermission, the little girl behind me reassures me the princess is just sleeping.

Act 2

Act 2 begins with an elaborately dressed man trumpeting a hunting party. The backdrop is that of a forest, and four couples join him onstage. One woman in an elaborately feathered red hat, gold skirt and gold-trimmed jacket stands out. (Confession: I want her costume.)

The prince (Dmitriy Sitkevich) enters with a series of jaw-droppingly high leaps to enthusiastic applause and murmured exclamations from the audience. “That’s prince charming,” the little girl behind me said. He certainly charmed the audience, and frequently got the strongest applause. 

The prince entertains the lady in the red hat, but ultimately dismisses the party. The Lilac Fairy joins him and shows him a (very pink) vision of the Princess Aurora. They dance well together, and Krukova portrays Aurora’s sleeping state with a trance-like expression. Sitkevich, for his part, appears enraptured.

The Lilac Fairy takes the prince to find Aurora, whose solo movements are sweet but tragic. The gated curtain reappears with Carabosse and the creatures waiting outside. They scurry to avoid the Lilac Fairy’s arrival.

A leaping prince, overjoyed to have found the place, is mocked by the creatures but applauded by the audience. With the Lilac Fairy’s assistance he banishes Carabosse and kisses Aurora softly.

Act 3

Act 3 begins with the arrival of fairytale creatures. The King and Queen return to their thrones, clothed in a gold and pink paneled dress for the Queen and a new cape for the King. The greenery clears to reveal a patio scene with columns covered in lilac and a purple dome in the distance.

The fairytale creatures dance in turn. First Puss and Boots and a White Cat tease each other with cat scratching and tapping each other on the head, eliciting giggles from the youngest members of the audience. Puss’s antics after realizing his partner had danced away got laughs from the older crowd as well. 

Princess Florine and the Blue Bird were by far the most cohesive duo of the dancers and left the crowd in silent awe, with loud applause upon finishing. Each had their own solo, and the crowd chuckled when the Blue Bird returned to the stage for the third time. He was joined by his princess, and their twirls received strong applause.

Red Riding Hood entered with her basket and pranced around the stage en pointe. Members of the court appeared shocked at the wolf’s entrance. Red cried and hid behind her basket, which the wolf threw offstage. He leapt after her with grand, sweeping arms and carried her offstage, returning for a bow and applause and chasing her off again.

After the divertissements, Aurora and the Prince enter in white. He concentrated on supporting her, exchanging a smile after a difficult lift coaxed applause from the audience. On the Prince’s part, however, no coaxing was necessary. The audience adored him. His legs appeared to be carved from marble. Both dancers expressed genuine joy and pride at completing the iconic fish dive. 

The loudest applause of the night went to the two at the completion of their pas de deux. The company finished with the Lilac Fairy in a dazzling lift while the Prince knelt before Aurora.

There was general shifting to the front of seats by the audience and hearty applause for the performers, including whistles and yells for the fairytale creatures and Carabosse. The Lilac Fairy garnered sustained whoops, as did the Prince and Aurora, although the audience did not stand.