The Sleeping Beauty is not one of my favorite ballets. The music is forgettable for the most part, there is a lot of pantomime and it drags on, even in Ratmansky’s generally likeable throwback version. I went because it offered the opportunity to see Cassandra Trenary in her first major role at the Met. More than any other dancer I can think of in recent memory, Trenary is big news. She’s been the subject of recent profiles in Pointe Magazine and Dance Information. Dance teachers say that her quality of movement is perfectly fluid in a way they’ve rarely seen. They extol her lyricism and keen sense of music. Choreographers describe her as having an old soul that communicates great depth. The dance photographers are talking about her and are some of her biggest fans. Other dancers are talking about her as well with obvious enthusiasm and respect. Expectations for this show naturally ran very high.

Cassandra Trenary and James Whiteside in <i>The Sleeping Beauty</i> © John Grigaitis
Cassandra Trenary and James Whiteside in The Sleeping Beauty
© John Grigaitis
The big question with a young dancer (Trenary is twenty-two) is can she command the stage? Can she make a connection with the audience? The Met is a big house and it takes a big name to fill those seats every night during the season. Is Trenary bankable? That’s an ugly way to think but it has to be on any director's mind. It’s fine and well to criticize the dearth of American ballerinas at the top of American Ballet Theatre’s roster but the seats have to be filled and audiences have proved repeatedly that they will turn out for the exotic guest artists. Also, there are encouraging signs that the public is embracing the new principal women and I am optimistic. As for Trenary, I hope that she catches on with audiences because, if anything, the hype is understated. From the moment she took the stage, Trenary owned it. She was fresh, engaging, joyful, spontaneous, exquisitely musical. I simply can’t find anything to complain about and would gladly have sat through it twice. Ratmansky’s choreography for Sleeping Beauty is considerably reduced from contemporary versions so it doesn’t present any special technical challenges. The variations are far simpler; chaîné turns are done on demi pointe and all the turns are either single or double. This ballet is all about character and story-telling and it was a stunning performance for a young dancer.

On the occasions I’ve seen Trenary in solo roles I’ve noticed a few things. First and most importantly, dance is her language. It’s akin to when you hear someone like Patrick Stewart read Shakespeare. You read it in school so you know it’s hard. You’ve seen other people do it well on film or on stage and you think you understand it. Then, when you hear Stewart performing it everything suddenly makes sense and you understand why Shakespeare is the greatest writer in the English language. Trenary does that with ballet. When you see her execute a series of steps, she turns them into a beautiful phrase of movements that are perfectly connected and every step has just the right inflection. Each logically follows the one before it and flows inevitably into the one that comes next. You see it and then you find yourself wishing that everyone else would do it the same way. Then you see her make what might be a mistake and you think, maybe they should change the choreography because that actually looked better. Nothing she does ever looks forced, unnatural or difficult. It’s not that she’s doing anything spectacular because I’ve never seen her do anything that resembles a trick. I couldn’t begin to tell you if she can do thirty-two fouettés but even if she can’t, I don’t care. She moves with such conviction and does it with such beauty that everything else is irrelevant.

Cassandra Trenary and company in <i>The Sleeping Beauty</i> © John Grigaitis
Cassandra Trenary and company in The Sleeping Beauty
© John Grigaitis
If you take all the separate elements that make for a great dancer, Trenary is not an outlier in any of them. Her feet are very good but not among the best. She is flexible and her line is good but again, nothing spectacular. She’s certainly musical, attractive and engaging but it’s only in musicality that she really excels. Her technique is terrific but that’s really beside the point. All of her individual qualities are good to excellent but the woman herself is something more… she's something special and we can’t help ourselves. A great deal is going to be written about Cassandra Trenary in the coming years and people will spend a lot of time trying to analyze what it is that makes her special but it will all come back to one simple thing: there’s something in the way she moves. Everything she does is a revelation. I apologize for not mentioning the rest of the performance in detail but this was a remarkable occasion that required special measures. The following individuals were very good in this performance: James Whiteside (Prince Désiré), Sarah Lane (Princess Florine), Devon Teuscher (Lilac Fairy), Skylar Brandt (Diamond Fairy), Catherine Hurlin (Cinderella), Gemma Bond (Breadcrumb), Ormsby Wilkins and the orchestra.