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Ulysses Festival of the Arts sets sail

Ambitious production marred by sleepy midsection

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Nearly a month ago, an e-mail hit my inbox describing the electric atmosphere in the North Carolina Dance Theatre boardroom as major participating arts groups, minor participants looking for a greater role, and outsiders hoping to jump aboard met "for the first time" to discuss the 2013 Ulysses Festival of the Arts. In ancient mythology, the King of Ithaca must have needed time to round up his army, outfit his sailing vessels, and kiss Penelope goodbye before sailing off to Troy. It may take even longer to get the new spring festival mobilized, for coordinating the schedules of Opera Carolina and Charlotte Symphony with those of other local performing arts companies — or redirecting Arts & Science Council funding to a mighty joint effort — is far more cumbersome than reversing the course of an ocean liner.

So it's not surprising that 2012 Ulysses doesn't sport its own program booklet. Or that last week's premiere of Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux's Sleeping Beauty didn't boast the live collaboration of Symphony musicians to kick off NCDT's nine-performance run at Knight Theater. Not enough house money to make it happen. See, the new festival isn't named after the crafty epic hero but after the Ulysses butterfly, so a little flimsiness and delicacy are appropriate for its first flight.

Without the full splendor of the music to help sell the spectacle, Sleeping Beauty's shortcomings appear more readily. You may have already done the math if you know that Disney, aided by Tchaikovsky's melodies, couldn't stretch the sparse storyline past 75 minutes. As in The Nutcracker, his ultimate collaboration with Tchaikovsky, choreographer Marius Petipa took every opportunity to inject cavalcades of dance miniatures into his scenario. Leaning heavily on Petipa's choreography — along with the scenery and costumes of Peter Cazalet for Ballet West — Bonnefoux keeps the original prologue-plus-three-act structure intact.

Nor does he tamper with the tried-and-true medley format. In the Prologue, five good fairies dance their blessings upon the newborn Princess Aurora before the uninvited Carabosse, Fairy of Jealousy, crashes the party, David Ingram flamboyantly menacing in drag. On the fateful day the evil fairy's curse is to be fulfilled, the royal court is once again assembled in Act 1, for a party. Now a procession of birthday gift-givers is interrupted by the same interloper, disguised as an old crone, who gives Aurora a spindle that has been hidden in a bouquet of flowers.

Melissa Anduiza as The Lilac Fairy presides over Aurora's fate in bedazzling style, wand always at the ready. In the Prologue, she mitigates Carabosse's curse, and in Act 1, she's there to sedate the kingdom. In Act 2, she reappears to show Prince Florimund a vision of the sleeping Aurora through the brambles that have surrounded the princess and her castle. Until then, Bonnefoux would do well to take pruning shears to the dawdling action. Act 3 returns us to medley mode, entertaining the King and Queen (Hardin Minor and Kati Hanlon) with fairy tale tableaus before the bride and groom appear.

My favorite fairy prank was "The Blue Bird," but "Little Red Riding Hood & The Big Bad Wolf" wowed the kiddies most. Of course, the throne room was then given over to Addul Manzano and Alessandra Ball, the love-at-first-sight prince and princess. Manzano and Ball glittered in white and gold, drawing the most difficult choreography and nailing it.

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