A major focus of Washington Ballet’s platform for the past 15 years has been community engagement, and performances at the handsome venue THEARC (built 2005), situated across the Anacostia river in one of DC’s less privileged neighborhoods well represent this mission to ‘connect children and adults of all ages to the art form’ and bring the ‘joy of dance’ into their lives'.

The Washington Ballet , <i>Sleeping Beauty</i> © media4artists I Theo Kossenas
The Washington Ballet , Sleeping Beauty
© media4artists I Theo Kossenas

And what better than the good old Tchaikovsky-Petipa classic for Saturday’s matinee performance? This was not the grand Sleeping Beauty by any means: this was a studio company performance; the staging, set and lighting were all pared down to a minimum; some cuts were made, an occasional voice-over announced the development of the plot (as if we could forget...), and not all characters were there (Aurora’s father-figure was missing, unintentional or arch?). But all this meant that we could focus on the dancing itself.

Nina Fernandes, a young Brazilian dancer, made for a pleasing Aurora; once the rose adagio was out of the way, with its infamous moments of balance, she visibly relaxed into her role, her pirouettes neat, her jetés con brio, her arabesques seamless. And although the men get all the credit for lifting their partners effortlessly, it takes so much control and technique to look as if you didn’t weigh a feather – and I think Fernandes did convey that lightness. Zhenghong Cao, from Beijing, was Prince Désiré. Truth be told, the ‘danseur noble’ role can be rather anaemic in such ballets, a blank canvas on which the interest of the prima is writ. The long-limbed Cao was suitably elegant and restrained, with an instinctive intuition about when to let his lady dazzle. Olivia Lipnick had some ice-cold moments as Carabosse, conveying menace through the arch of her foot as well as her ‘death’ gestures, furious grand jetés cutting through the cosy aristocratic world. Her cohort of bats were raggedy, but disorder was presumably the point: tumbling and scrabbling across the stage in defiance of the natural hierarchies and orders of classical ballet.

The divertissements of Act III were danced especially well. Kimberly Cilento as the White Cat had just the right combination of coquettishness and feline sinuosity, first-rate poise and dramatic sense. Kyra Wendelken, a petite Red Riding Hood, was a veritable tornado of small steps and dainty pointe work, precisely executed; Frederico d’Ortenzi’s Wolf a thunder of threatening leaps. Just over a minute on stage, theirs was a jewel-like dance. One was almost sorry to see them depart.

Gustavo Ribeiro and Krystina Wendelken were elegant and well-paired in the Bluebird pas de deux. Wendelken had the necessary légèreté in her turns, sharp attitudes and arabesques. Ribeiro combined lightness an dballon in his leaps, and, when required, speed (his entrechats were particularly crisp). Furthermore, his ease of movement attracts the eye.

The timing and co-ordination of the corps were not always brilliantly achieved; there were technical issues certainly, and musical ones. Much of the glory of Sleeping Beauty lies in those moments when the bravura of brilliant movement comes suddenly to a point of stillness – a hold here, a penché there, a fish-dive lift, and so forth. That stillness must be camera-ready for the audience – that’s poise, that’s spectacle, that’s the triumph of tableau. Too often, there was a sense of ‘just got there’ minor adjustments to scuttle into place on time – not quite at the stage of art concealing art.

Juniors from various grades from Washington Ballet's Southeast Campus were on stage: a very positive sign of the integration of budding dancers from the local community. Indeed one small boy – he can’t have been more than 8 or 9 was given a short solo – enough to impress with assured technique and unmistakable stage presence.

The scenery was of the simplest variety – a painted backdrop with some fairly twee arches, a fountain and the necessary flora – but fit for purpose. The music, recorded, gusted out from the speakers; an inevitable choice given budget and space constraints, although it does remind one of the contribution of a live orchestra to ballet; that dynamic antiphonal dialogue between sound and movement was simply not there. Costumes were pleasing, the most lovely being those of the townsfolk in the Garland Waltz where a French Rococo aesthetic, all blues, whites and pinks reigned.

A pleasing afternooon with some good performances from the studio company.