San Francisco Ballet enchants with ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ on its opening weekend

San Francisco Ballet/Courtesy

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Gentle Tchaikovsky melodies set a mood of sophistication and elegance at the San Francisco Ballet’s performance of “The Sleeping Beauty” when it premiered this weekend. The War Memorial Opera House was decorated in soft lights and “Once Upon a Time” detailing to welcome attendees to the age-old fairytale.

At the Sunday matinee performance, principal choreographer Helgi Tomasson modeled his movement-driven vision after Marius Petipa, the crowned “father of classical ballet,”  and the original choreographer of the 1890 Russian production. Set in 17th- and 18th-century Russia, “The Sleeping Beauty” is the fourth installation of the 2019 spring season lineup by SF Ballet.

Viewers were greeted by heavy canary blue curtains and gold piping that lined the edges to reinforce the typically elaborate set design of SF Ballet productions. In the same vein, the costume design by Jens-Jacob Worsaae implemented opulent velvet robes, gaudy headpieces and an abundance of ornately decorated tutus.  

As the curtains were pulled away, the Byzantine-style tapestries were revealed as the setting for the first scene. The fairies in flouncing tutus pranced in careful patterns across the stage, their male counterparts lifting them into the air as they struck impressively graceful poses.      

The drama of the night ultimately unfolded as the Fairy of Darkness, played by principal dancer Jennifer Stahl, entered with three crow-costumed dancers. In European folklore, the presence of a trio of crows is seen as a symbol that foreshadows death. This fascinating combination of characters wearing tattered avant-garde clothing provided a contrast that strengthened the good-versus-evil theme of the narrative.    

The darkness of the scene was immediately extinguished by a meadowy dance by a group of dancers, all from a range of ages. The production formed an image of all the dancers holding rings of flowers in what seemed like a testament to the femininity of nature called “The Garland Dance.” The choreography and design of the sequence looked like a flowery, bright scene straight out of the trailer for the upcoming A24 movie “Midsommar.”    

Returning to the tapestried hall, the highlighted principal dancer playing Princess Aurora, Mathilde Froustey, hit every beat — minus a few light falters. To be fair, the ballerina was standing en pointe for the entirety of four different gentlemen spinning her around one-by-one. Although the choreography led to her appearing slightly off-balance at times, it was mesmerizing nonetheless, justified by the amount of effort and focus that achieving the feat required.     

After the scene, a showcase that demonstrated the skill of the performers, the overall mood of the production shifted far from its flashy beginnings. The plot jumped forward a hundred years after the first scene took place, and the sets became more barren as the princess tragically slipped into her slumber, the costumes becoming less grandiose and more simplistically Victorian to match the somber mood. Additional elements from various parts of Europe melded with the show’s Russian atmosphere as the setting changed to reflect the post-Peter-the-Great era when doors were opened to “the influence of European styles and cultures,” as the program stated.     

Special effects peppered the stage throughout the entirety of the performance — between clouds of smoke that signaled the Fairy of Darkness’ exit from a scene and lakes of mist that provided a more clandestine mood, the vibrant production value and unflinching spectacle of SF Ballet’s “The Sleeping Beauty” surely did not disappoint.  

“The Sleeping Beauty” is playing at the War Memorial Opera House until March 17.  

Contact Skylar De Paul at [email protected]. Tweet her at @skylardepaul.