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Age-old fairy tale enchants with grace, timeless beauty

Susan Saccoccia | 3/27/2013, 2:06 p.m.
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A timeless love story. Ravishing music. Superb choreography. One of the most beautiful and moving works of classical ballet, “The Sleeping Beauty” has it all. The Boston Ballet brings its strengths to the stage in a captivating production at the Boston Opera House through April 7.

Marius Petipa’s “The Sleeping Beauty,” is alive and well with the power of fairy tales to captivate, excite and stir emotion.  

The dancing is not merely decorative — although there is plenty of eye candy in its interwoven lace-like lines. The choreography also expresses individual personalities and dramatizes a battle between light and darkness in which desire, tempered but not muted, triumphs.

The Boston Ballet has presented this production twice before, in 2005 and 2009. The production is faithful to the original choreography crafted by Petipa in 1890, when he was ballet master of the Imperial Theatre (today, the Mariinsky Ballet) in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Boston Ballet Orchestra, conducted by its music director, Jonathan McPhee, performs the magnificent score by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

 Deft lighting by John Cuff refines faces and intimate gestures as well as the ballet’s panoramic formations and grand stage pictures, as screens rise and fall to transform a stately garden into a forest or a vine-shrouded castle.

The company’s dancers rotate among the roles in the production, which lasts about two hours and 45 minutes with two intermissions.

On Friday evening, Misa Kuranaga and Jeffrey Cirio were well matched as Princess Aurora and Prince Désiré. Both are small in stature and project unforced sweetness.  

In the prologue, the king and queen christen their infant princess in a garden overlooking a grand pathway of trees. A clique of dancing fairies presents gifts, led by the Lilac Fairy, performed by an elegant and commanding Lia Cirio. The mood changes with the arrival of her nemesis, the evil fairy Carabosse, attended by a quartet of horned, rat-like creatures. A beauty with a mane of red curls, pasty white makeup and a sparkling black gown, Erica Cornejo’s Carabosse is an electrifying presence, exuding Goth glamour.

Overlooked on the guest list, Carobosse vents her fury with a curse: On her 16th birthday, Princess Aurora will prick her finger on a spindle and die. The Lilac Fairy concocts an antidote: Instead of dying, the princess will fall into a 100-year sleep and then wake to the kiss of a handsome prince.  

Act I is the 16th birthday party of Princess Aurora, where an ensemble of maidens bearing garlands of flowers forms a human carousel. The princess’ high-spirited solo is an aria to youthful joy. The choreography and music slow to reveal her jubilant and tender nature. Textured melodies of the glockenspiel, violins, piano and harp accompany her light-hearted pirouettes and leaps. Kuranaga’s performance makes us care about this young woman.

A test of a dancer’s skill as well as the grace and self-possession of a young lady coming of age, the Act I Rose Adagio sequence is one of the most challenging in classical ballet. As she greets a succession of four princes, the princess withdraws her hand from one suitor and extends it to the next, all the while standing tiptoe on one foot.