The Sleeping Beauty, one of the quintessential classical ballets of the Imperial Ballet era has continued to develop its own 21st century historical tradition. It was Dame Ninette de Valois, who had performed in the first Western production in 1921, who decided that this ballet was essential for her fledgling British company, and so created the first English production in 1939. Choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton worked with Nikolai’s Sergeyev (and the notation he had brought with him from St. Petersburg of the Petipa production), but the 1939 production at Sadlers Wells, designed by Nadia Benois, was simple: the opulence unaffordable, and war soon made the full production impossible.

Dame Ninette de Valois returned to The Sleeping Beauty throughout her long tenure as founder/director of the Royal Ballet, and it has become one of the company’s signature works. Boston Ballet has inherited one of the loveliest productions, with seemingly sugar crusted designs by David Walker, which were originally used in the last production supervised directly by de Valois, in 1978. Unlike the vibrant colors of the later Oliver Messel production, Walker’s designs are so soft, so ephemeral (the costumes for the Pas de trois in the third act are nearly the color of pure, flowing water – almost impossible to describe) that they serve to create a completely otherworldly vision. Seeing this production feels a bit like being allowed to enter directly into the center of a gem- sparkling, multi-faceted and exquisite.

Lia Cirio and Lasha Khozashvili led the opening night cast, with Addie Tapp (Lilac Fairy), Kathleen Breen Combes (Carabosse) and Misa Kuranaga and Junxiong Zhao, a delightful treat as Princess Florine and the Blue Bird. The Prologue fairies’ divertissement provides lovely opportunities for soloist development, as well as some of the most beautiful costumes in the ballet, and glowing Dawn Atkins’s charm was particularly notable in her work as the Crystal Fountain Fairy. Cirio’s athletic ability is often suited to more contemporary roles, but her Aurora made fantastic use of these abilities, as she luxuriated on pointe in the Rose Adagio and turned what is often a fairly mundane overhead lift in the Coda of the Grand Pas de deux into a joyous curling wave- a lesson that classicism does not necessitate rigidity. As always, Khozashvili was a brilliant leading man, and the inclusion of Kuranaga and Zhao in the Blue Bird pas de deux (so often not assigned to principals) made the last act a treasure chestof its own.

The matinee the next day featured many of the same dancers (including Tapp graciously stepping, unheralded, into the corps of the Vision Scene to replace an injured colleague) but with what may be a historic debut: Hannah Bettes as Aurora, supported gallantly by Florimond Lorieux. These two make an exciting couple, with a special, nearly Old-World elegance and charm. Delicate Anaïs Chalendard danced a carefully curated Lilac Fairy, her mime to Rachele Buriassi’s Carabosse was as clear as if she had spoken, but imbued with a special grace of one so full of love, gentleness and wisdom that it was impossible not to know immediately that everything would be all right in the end. Bettes (whose resemblance to Boston Ballet’s 1990s powerhouse, Jennifer Gelfand is uncanny) was enchanting. One of few dancers today to use her eyes as much as her prodigious technique, she brought the audience into her world as soon as she launched into a filigreed explosion of joy in her first solo. A slight mishap at the end of the Rose Adagio appeared to unnerve her momentarily, but her recovery was masterful. Boston Ballet truly is the place to see some of the brightest young stars of American ballet today. I believe that this is due to Nissinen’s practice of hiring gifted talents straight into the corps de ballet, and providing them with consistent opportunities to develop their talents. I look forward to watching the next generation of BB’s next wave of principals as much as their current roster.

In keeping this production of The Sleeping Beauty in the repertoire, Boston Ballet is providing a vital service to the history of classical ballet, developing its dancers to their fullest potential, and providing Boston audiences with a chance to enter into a magical world of the most exquisite beauty. What a wonderful gift this ballet is.