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Originally published January 31, 2010 at 7:01 PM | Page modified February 5, 2010 at 12:02 PM

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Dancing gracefully through life with 'Sleeping Beauty'

"The Sleeping Beauty" returns to the stage at Pacific Northwest Ballet, and for choreographer Ronald Hynd and assistant Annette Page it's the story of their lives together.

Seattle Times movie critic

Ballet preview

'The Sleeping Beauty'

7:30 p.m. Feb. 4-6 and 11-13, 1 p.m. Feb. 6 and 13-14; Pacific Northwest Ballet, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; $25-$160 (206-441-2424 or www.pnb.org).

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"The Sleeping Beauty" returns to the stage at Pacific Northwest Ballet this week as the latest link in a long, graceful chain of ballet history. And, for choreographer Ronald Hynd and assistant Annette Page, it's something else as well — the story of their lives together, over more than six decades of dance.

Choreographed by the Russian master Marius Petipa, "The Sleeping Beauty" made its world premiere in St. Petersburg in 1890, based on the beloved Perrault fairy tale and set to a grand score by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

The ballet made its way to the West, most notably in a Ballets Russes staging by Sergei Diaghilev in 1921 and a British wartime revival in 1939, for the Sadler's Wells Ballet (later the Royal Ballet). The latter was staged by Nicholas Sergeyev, former ballet master to Petipa, and was a close relation to the original Russian production.

"In 1946, it was staged at Covent Garden, pretty well totally based on the Sergeyev version," remembered Hynd, on a lunch break with Page at PNB earlier this month.

The production, which became a signature ballet for the company, was the Sadler's Wells Ballet's grand reopening of the Royal Opera House after the war, with the royal family present — as well as Hynd and Page, both young students dazzled by the lavish production.

During her years at the Royal Ballet's school and later as a young dancer in the company, Page danced "jolly nearly every part in the ballet" before taking on the role of Princess Aurora.

Hynd, who began his career with the Ballet Rambert, joined the Royal Ballet in 1951. As a "Sleeping Beauty" cavalier, he "walked round in circles endlessly for years doing the Rose Adagio with a selection of many, many ballerinas, and then I graduated to the prince."

Over the years, the ballet became part of their lives. "It's the one we've grown up with," said Page, of the 1946 "Sleeping Beauty." "We've loved it and lived it and danced many, many roles in it. When we met, we started to dance together. That developed into not only a ballet partnership, but a life partnership. I always say to people, I married the prince."

The pair married in 1957, and danced many "Sleeping Beauty" performances together through the 1960s.

In 1993, Hynd created a new version of "The Sleeping Beauty," for the English National Ballet.

He had long wanted to create a new "Sleeping Beauty," based closely on both the Petipa original and the 1946 remount — one that would make more of a distinction in the choreography, he said, between the real people and the fairies.

"I think the magic is a prince in an 18th-century costume with boots, holding this fragile creature, the ballerina — the two different elements," he said. "I think that's really crucial to 'The Sleeping Beauty.' "

The ballet came to PNB's repertoire in 2001, when then-artistic directors Kent Stowell and Francia Russell invited Hynd and Page to Seattle to set "Sleeping Beauty" on their company, as the ballet's North American premiere.

"We came, saw the company, loved the company," said Hynd.

He and Page have since returned three more times, to stage the ballet in each of its PNB incarnations.

With a company that knows "Sleeping Beauty" well, they said, the primary focus when restaging is on details: little moments of musicality, keeping the pantomime natural and clear, reminding the dancers to keep focused on the story.

Page noted, with a smile, that sometimes ballerinas in the famous Rose Adagio (in which Princess Aurora performs a series of exquisite balances, holding the hand of four cavaliers in turn) want to balance alone, not needing the hand.

"I always say, it's fine in rehearsal, enjoy it. But if you shake hands with two people and you ignore the third one, it's like a slap in the face. The story is saying how do you do, to each of the four suitors. So you have to somehow fit it into the music, even if you're on fantastic balances."

When they're not staging ballets, Hynd and Page live a fairy-tale life in the English countryside, in a 600-year-old house with a beautiful garden.

But they still travel the world to keep old ballets new: Hynd will next travel to Estonia to stage "Coppelia," and was recently asked to return to Australia next year to stage "The Merry Widow."

And they're not yet ready to say goodbye to "Sleeping Beauty."

"Every time we rehearse it, we still feel deeply moved by the score and by the beauty of Petipa's choreography," said Hynd. "We never tire of it."

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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