American Ballet Theater's "The Sleeping Beauty"-the most lavish and intricate of its full-length classics returned to the boards at Kennedy Center this past weekend, showing still more of the tinkering that has afflicted the Mary Skeaping production since its unveiling in 1976. At the same time, the present state of the ballet suggests that ideal solutions to the challenges it poses have yet to be found.
What's distressing is how few of the revisions come across as improvements. As matters now stand, the production is considerably pared down. Gone, for example, are the Prince's solo-the one dramatically cogent interpolation-and the confrontation between Carabosse and the Lilac Fairy in Act II, as well as the coda of the final pas de deux.
A half-baked pas de quatre now replaces the attractive Florestan trio. The wedding scene is starting to look anemic, with so few fairy-tale characters left. Meanwhile, critical flaws-the invisibility of the infant Princess in the Prologue, the clumsy staging of the Prince's awakening kiss-go uncorrected.
Time devoted to such puttering, however, would be better spent on trying to achieve a more stylistically iniform and rigorous performance. Martine van Hamel danced well as Aurora Saturday night, without quite duplicating the radiance we've seen from her before. Lise Houlton's Lilac Fairy was remarkedly limpid.Otherwise, individual brightnesses tended to be lost in the general stylistic murk. Patrick Bissell, as the Prince, looked smashing, but he's far from having assimilated the manners of a Bourbon aristocrat.
Both Natalia Makarova and Anthony Dowell danced superbly in Friday night's "Giselle," and yet, strangely, the catalytic spark that so often ignites their stage partnership seemed absent. Partnering the aptly agile Marianna Tcherkassky in the Peasant Pas de Deux. Danilo Radojevic blurred some of his beaten steps, but burst forth with imposing flair in his jumps, turns and general attack.