Kaori Nakamura as Princess Aurora (aka balletic perfection).
  • Angela Sterling
  • Kaori Nakamura as Princess Aurora (aka balletic perfection).

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Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty is a total nerdfest for ballet lovers and a very, very long educational experience for those new to the world of classical story ballet.

As a historical work, it’s equally tedious and important—with three hours of prologue, three acts (and thankfully three intermissions), Beauty was one of the first big hits of professional dance. (Sleeping Beauty arrived in 1890, followed by Nutcracker in 1892 and Swan Lake in 1895.)

It's performed by pretty much every world-class company in the galaxy, but PNB’s production is as good as this ballet gets with technically challenging choreography that PNB dancers freaking nailed, beautiful and innovative set designs, and music that is leaps and bounds (get it?) more stunning than the terribly lyricized version from the Disney movie.

On opening night, PNB ballerina Kaori Nakamura danced the role of Princess Aurora. In this role, Nakamura is perfection: The precision with which she finishes every single movement from the tiniest bourrée to ass-whooping series of leaps or turns is both artful and a physical marvel. Some dancers will ride the sparkles and spotlight of the role of fairy princess so hard that you just wind up staring at a tiara and a toothy smile, but Nakamura’s technical abilities and her passion for the art are visible in her facial expressions, her fingertips, her movements, and the way she relates to both the audience and her fellow dancers.

This is Kaori Nakamura in action in the first act of Don Quixote. She begins at the 0:44 mark— watch through her turns at the end of the variation.

The plot is tedious (angry fairy casts a spell on a princess and through a series of events the princess and her whole town end up sleeping for a hundred years, until she is wakened by Mr. Handsome Prince—even though morning breath—and then Happily Ever After!), but story ballets do not (or should not) depend on their plots to tell their stories. This is where sets and music and choreography and ballet mime and sometimes a little random entertainment comes in, such as the third act, where the fairytale theme goes berserk. Short variations are performed by the seemingly random duos of Puss in Boots and the White Cat, Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, and a pair of high-energy bluebirds.

It takes work to watch classical ballets—it’s subtle and attention can wander from the dancers to the sets to the music to what kind of sandwich you’re going to make when you get home. But, for me, classical story ballets are to dance what statistics classes were to my liberal arts degree. I can’t understand the future impact of war on a society without being able to interpret current data and I can’t fully appreciate contemporary dance without understanding its artistic, cultural, and technical foundations in classical ballet.

So I keep going, season after season, one three-hour/four-act ballet after the other, and I’ll keep telling anyone who’ll listen to go at least once to get a glimpse of the roots of this dance, to soak in the stunning moments, and to earn some major street cred by powering through the tough spots. It’s worth it every time.