The puppets of the East Bohemian Puppet Theatre Drak, the Czechoslovakian troupe that presented a backstage version of the ballet "Sleeping Beauty" last night at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater, are wonderfully mobile. They slither up ropes, dance upside-down on the ceiling, turn somersaults in midair, and generally do marvelous things.
The cooks that prepare a birthday cake for the Princess whip eggs, lift and throw bowls, dump the lovely pink concoction upside down; the clowns and other entertainers at the royal party jump dizzily through a series of acrobatic feats; the Ballet Master, whose astounding elevation allows him to perform demure, fluttery entrechats vingt, conducts a class in which the ladies sharpen their pointes as if on a scissors grinder.
It might seem that what goes on behind the scenes of Drak's "Sleeping Beauty" bears little resemblance to what we usually see onstage, that a director/choreographer who dresses the puppet Aurora in a lavender and has her appear to the music for the Lilac Fairy, along with other kinetic malapropisms, doesn't know all that much about the great ballet classic. I would guess, however, that said director (anonymous in the program) knows every step of Petipa's choreography and every note of Tchaikovsky's music, and has hated both from early childhood.
The production is rife with in-jokes. A very verbal stage manager who acts as MC hurries the Prince along with "It always takes him a century"; one of the circus entertainers performs upside down gargouillades at the appropriate place in the music.
You won't learn much about "Sleeping Beauty" from watching this irreverent, if visually imaginative, production, but the battle of the Prince and a nearly indomitable, lethal Rose and the evil capers of the Wicked Fairy (a.k.a. Carabosse), help make the evening entertaining.