REVIEW: The Sleeping Beauty
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REVIEW: Birmingham Royal Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty, The Mayflower Southampton
By Beccy Conway
The original incarnation of The Sleeping Beauty was commissioned by Director of the Imperial Theatres, Ivan Alexandrovich Vsevolozhsky, and premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg in 1890. The work of choreographer Marius Petipa and composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, The Sleeping Beauty was cited as the origin of creative inspiration for many important choreographers of the twentieth century.
There is nothing quite like a traditional Tchaikovsky ballet. Arguably the most prominent of all Russian composers, Tchaikovsky composed some of the most infamous and enduring ballets in existence. A staple in the repertoire of Birmingham Royal Ballet, this production by Sir Peter Wright, created for the company’s predecessor Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet in 1984, is a true journey back in time to Imperial Russia. During an era when the fashion is to reimagine classical works, Wright’s Sleeping Beauty is as close as possible to Petipa’s original.
The first impression we have as the curtain ascends is one of sheer opulence.
Gilded walls enclose the stage, which is dotted with marble ornaments and plush drapes. A golden statue looms above the scene from the back of the stage, behind the ornate crib in which the baby Aurora is placed. The statue is shaped in a severe spike, its shape mirrored in Carabosse’s cursed spindle, an ever-present reminder of the inevitable fate which will befall the young princess.
The ensemble makes up the people of the Court, adorned in luxurious period dress and decorative headdresses. Although not entirely to my taste, I’m fascinated to read that most of the costumes date back to the 1984 premiere, well-made as they are. All in all, the costumes, headdresses and wigs – worn by the full cast throughout the piece, require an entire lorry to themselves.
The choreography itself is some of the most difficult ballet in the canon. Momoko Hirata dances the eighteen-year-old Princess Aurora for opening night, her fluidity of movement second to none. Act II sees her interact with four would-be suitors, standing for an extended time on a single pointe shoe as she receives them in turn. The strength this must require is immense, yet we in the audience could be fooled into thinking it easy, so unwavering is Hirata’s poise.
What stands out to me as being different from other ballets I’ve seen in recent times is the prominent use of mime. Several of the key characters on stage do not dance technical ballet, but instead communicate their intentions through gesture and specific motion. This is not mime as one might associate the term – man in an invisible box, for example – but clean, often repeated movements which Carabosse (Nao Sakuma) uses to portray cursing the young princess, and the Lilac Fairy (Jenna Roberts) uses to depict saving her life. There is a fascinating explanation of Mime in Ballet in the production’s programme, along with some mime ‘script’.
We are treated to many other elements of the traditional ballet formula, some of the most joyful in the final Act, during the wedding celebrations. Short pantomimes featuring recognisable characters are performed in duets, including Puss in Boots and the White Cat, and Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. The pas de deux in Act III, danced by Hirata and Mathias Dingman as her Prince Florimund is a stunning culmination of skill, athleticism and artistry which will delight ballet fans of all ages.
With an ensemble supported by students from The Royal Ballet School and Elmhurst Ballet School, and a score performed by the inimitable Royal Ballet Sinfonia, The Sleeping Beauty combines superlative tradition with the talent of tomorrow.