Living in New York City means that if you have a couple of free hours and some crumpled dollar bills in your pocket you can head to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and see some of the most famous, important (because they're famous) works of art ever created from the ancient to the contemporary.
If you don't take advantage of this, and don't mind being glared at by the ticket takers for offering $4 for your admission, then you are living in the wrong city. This is precisely why you ought to get to Big Cinemas on East 59th St at 11 am every Sunday. Their commitment to showing a high-definition rendering of a European city opera or ballet performance on their screen exemplifies the best of accessible art in this city. Last Sunday, January 13, was the Royal Ballet's Sleeping Beauty, a staple of the company's repertoire and one of those pieces, like Van Gogh's "self portrait in a straw hat" or Alvin Ailey's "Revelations," that you just have to go see sometime.
Of course, a movie theatre willing to cater to the higher-minded for a couple hours every week is my preferred setting for art viewing, even if I do I like to wear jeans and eat Sour Patch Kids while I take in the finer things in life. This particular performance was the premiere of the Royal Ballet's new cast starring Lauren Cuthbertson as Princess Aurora and Sergei Polunin as her Prince.
In order to provide context, the showing included the "making of" scenes and interviews with company directors and the two young stars. I balk at this in theory because it almost seems like a way to talk down to the movie goers - poor souls who can't afford expensive theatre tickets and probably don't know anything about the company and the legacy left by Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. Except that I, and I'm sure most of the elective audience, know all about this and still cannot get enough of behind the scenes action, so I'm probably just being sensitive. We are dance buffs. We love watching dancers rehearse their roles.
The interview with Cuthbertson showed a reserved yet lively young woman quick to laugh modestly at her own nerves and good fortune. Although "fortune" may be a slightly insulting term to use since you don't get asked to fill Fonteyn's shoes without killing yourself to live for the stage. In rehearsals with Polunin, Cuthbertson's doe-like limbs seemed to stretch and recoil so effortlessly so as to teeter on The Edge of milquetoast, but her on stage performance was nothing of the sort. She struck a lovely balance of self-assurance and new enrapturement at having discovered her own beauty and the perks of being a royal. She was reminiscent of Luisa in The Fantasticks, a role steeped in silliness, yet so sincere that it is nothing short of endearing. Her virtuosic ability and ease of movement only served to undermine her performance a few times, most notably in the impossible balance in attitude as she receives her suitors in the famous Rose Adagio. Marius Petipa, in all his 19th century sadistic aestheticism, actually calls for Aurora to repeat this feat at the end of Act II, at which point I'm fairly positive nobody on stage or in the audience is enjoying it as we are still catching out breath from the first go around. It is perverse, really, that Cuthbertson spoils us with a graceful, bashful perfection so that if she ever falters slightly it looks more wrong than normal.
Polunin, however, never faltered once, but it is unfair to mention this since he's obviously part tiger, and since when do tigers misstep? He leaps, pounces and hurls himself through space with an alacrity that is exceedingly male despite the white tights. More pleasing, perhaps because it came so unexpectedly, was his acting performance. Prince Florimund's entrance doesn't involve much, as the young prince shuffles morosely through a hunting party, politely scorning lady admirers. Yet his face was thrilling, with a firmly set jaw and a wayward gaze beneath a frustrated brow. He eschewed pantomime and exaggeration for a gracefully subdued performance until running head first into the Vision sequence, and you remember that this dancer is also a fine actor.