California Ballet Company

California Ballet Company
San Diego Civic Theatre, San Diego, CA
March 5–6, 2005
Reviewed by Janice Steinberg


At 18, Polina Semionova (see “On the Rise,” October 2004) became the youngest principal at Berlin’s Staatsoper Unter den Linden. At 19—last year—she enchanted British critics in the English National Ballet’s Swan Lake. This March, she made the cover of Berlin’s ballettanz magazine for an issue focusing on beauty. It’s a lot of buzz for a young dancer to carry, but Semionova bore the weight of potential stardom as fearlessly as she nailed her attitudes in her U.S. debut as Aurora in California Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty—a role that highlighted her naturalness and charm as well as the clarity of her technique.

Long-torsoed and willowy, the Bolshoi graduate’s beautifully lifted, open upper body conveyed Aurora’s openness and freshness, and her incisive footwork and powerful balances reminded us that this doe-eyed girl will become a queen. With quicksilver vivacity, Semionova had fun with big emotions like exuberance, and in subtle moments she dazzled: In her first dance with the prince, eyes half-closed, she looked transported—and light years more alive than anyone else in this otherwise disappointing production.

David Makhateli’s cool powder-blue costume mirrored his lack of ardor as Prince Désiré. At least the Royal Ballet soloist could jump, ascending as lightly as if he were being drawn up like a yoyo rather than having to push against the floor.

The San Diego-based company’s director, Maxine Mahon, gave us scaled-down choreography—Petipa lite—like Carabosse (Clarissa Palhegyi) as Leona Helmsley, more camp than scary as she repeated a few sweeping gestures. The corps often simply walked at different speeds, with a nervous quartet of pages pacing like expectant fathers. When the choreography did get more challenging, the dancing turned mushy, most painfully in the fairies’ variations. Exceptions were principal Jennifer Curry with a lovely port de bras as the Lilac Fairy, Mariko Kikuchi’s precise feet and fluttering fingers as the Fairy of Eloquence, and guest artist Evgeniy Lushkin’s sparkling side-to-side jumps as the Bluebird.

California Ballet deserves cheers for introducing Semionova to U.S. audiences, but let’s hope that her next appearance will be in a production worthy of her brilliance.

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