Staging "The Sleeping Beauty" and changing the choreography makes as much sense as buying the Mona Lisa only to paint her orange, but the level of dancing by the San Francisco Ballet in this extremely demanding work was so consistently glorious that the dramatic and choreographic indulgences scattered throughout the production seemed to matter less and less as last weekend at the Kennedy Center wore on.
American productions of "Beauty" seen here in recent seasons have been dead things, either stolid or spare, the dancers deficient in technique or style, or both. But the SFB dancers are refreshingly unself-conscious and make classical dancing seem as natural as walking or skipping. When feet flash through the complicated steps with effortless grace, when young dancers in 18th-century costumes prance through a polonaise or play blindman's bluff as though they're actually having fun, the 100-year-old Petipa choreography looks as fresh and new as artistic director Helgi Tomasson's additions of yesterday.
Tomasson has a firm idea of how he wants his company to dance and he's been extremely successful in achieving his vision. This production has dancers of assorted races and ethnic groups from all over America as well as some imported from England, Canada and Russia, yet everyone dances in the same style. It's bella dansa, dancing that's clear and light and flowing, with every step shown honestly and every movement extended to its fullest, yet all connected in effortless, lyrical phrases that make the dancing sing.
The company showed two new Auroras and three new Prince Desires in its three weekend performances. The two given by young Elizabeth Loscavio were a metaphor for the ballet itself. Like the character she danced, Loscavio blossomed and matured from one day to the next. On Saturday afternoon, despite an appealing freshness and considerable technical courage, she seemed to be trying on the role for size, a promising young dancer waiting to grow up. On Sunday afternoon, having apparently decided that the role fit just fine, Loscavio romped through the ballet, handling the transformation from teenage princess to ideal vision to royal bride as effortlessly as she did the balances in the Rose Adagio, the sustained lyricism of her vision scene solo or the virtuosity of the third-act pas de deux. She seemed more suited to Gregory Osborne, a tall and gracious dancer and her Prince of Saturday afternoon, than Mikko Nissinen on Sunday. Nissinen flew through his third-act solos but was a bland and almost sullen Prince.
On Saturday night, Sabina Alleman and Ashley Wheater danced the leading roles with polish, if not consistent precision. Alleman, an uneven technician, was an extremely likable Aurora, with gutsy balances, a soaring jump and a radiant presence. Wheater, an elegant and musical dancer, also had trouble with his solos, but his mimed conversation with the Lilac Fairy (Muriel Mafre) in the second act was so clear and gentlemanly and downright civil that one hardly noticed.
Four dancers in assorted combinations produced first-class Blue Bird pas de deux. Ming Hai Wu was the neater, Andres Reyes the more exciting of the two men. Shannon Lilly was a luscious -- and Kristin Long a sparkling -- Enchanted Princess. One of the pleasures of watching these dancers in this production was seeing how much they seemed to relish dancing it. It's the way classical dancing is supposed to look, but almost never does.